“Fire represents about 50 percent of the core meltdown risk at the typical US reactor — and that’s assuming plants comply with safety regulations,” said Mary Lampert
By Christine Legere
Cape Cod Times, Feb. 10, 2016
PLYMOUTH — A security officer at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station failed to conduct assigned fire watches more than 200 times in a two-year period, in areas that required hourly checks because fire suppression systems were inoperable. The worker then falsified logs to look as though the watches had been done.
While the security officer no longer works at Pilgrim, Entergy, the plant’s owner-operator, is still being held responsible for violations of fire protection protocol.
In a letter sent to Entergy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said its Office of Investigations had spent a year looking into a report of skipped fire watches and falsified records.
The investigation revealed that the security officer skipped more than 200 assigned fire watches between June 2012 and June 2014. “Although the security officer in question initially denied falsifying all of the fire watch logs in question, after continued inquiry by the Office of Investigations, the security officer admitted to falsifying over 200 such records,” according to the case summary provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
One Pilgrim watchdog says the security officer’s actions made for a dangerous situation. “Fire represents about 50 percent of the core meltdown risk at the typical US reactor — and that’s assuming plants comply with safety regulations,” said Mary Lampert, president of the citizens group, Pilgrim Watch. “The risk only goes up as reactors operate outside those safety protocols. Pilgrim’s fire watchman failed to do fire watches 200 times; management failed to keep watch over the watchman 200 times, leaving us at high risk.”
Entergy could be hit with a civil fine for the infractions — up to $140,000 per day per violation — but that probably won’t happen, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “We don’t believe at this point it will result in a civil penalty,” he said. “Where it ends up in terms of enforcement remains to be seen.”
Pilgrim had shown some initiative by conducting its own, independent investigation, he said, and reached a similar conclusion. Its effort will be viewed as a mitigating circumstance.
The plant could also be subjected to more oversight, although its current status as one of the three worst-performing plants in the country has already put it under intense federal scrutiny.
Some of the hourly fire watches the security officer skipped had been assigned checks on the plant’s main diesel generator. “That’s a very important piece of equipment,” Sheehan said. “If you lose power, you need the diesel generator to work,” Sheehan said.
In a written statement provided by spokesman Patrick O’Brien, Entergy said it had conducted its own investigation before the NRC, based on similar concerns and fired the employee based on their findings.
“Conduct such as occurred in this case is a firing offense and Entergy expects all employees and contractors to commit and adhere to trust, honesty and integrity,” it said.
Entergy can accept the characterization of the violations as laid out by the NRC or it can choose to offer its own perspective, by either meeting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or settling it through mediation. The company can also offer arguments on its own behalf in writing.
O’Brien said Entergy is considering how it will respond but “will make a decision soon.”