NRC says Pilgrim shutdown was prudent, precautionary plan

Neither Entergy nor this article mention that the NRC’s Jan. 26 1015 supplementary inspection report was highly critical of Entergy management and the fact that they did not have an adequate storm protocol in place.

Published under Fair Use
February 18. 2015 by Frank Mand
Wicked Local Plymouth
“The decision to shut down the Pilgrim nuclear power plant was a voluntary action on the part of Entergy,” NRC Spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “It was not an action sought or required by the NRC.”

PLYMOUTH – This time, Entergy shut the nuclear plant down before the storm hit. But the last two times that Pilgrim Station was about to experience a major blizzard, the company chose to keep the plant running.

During the two recent storms in which Pilgrim opted to remain online, it lost power to one or both of its transmission lines and had to scram (perform an emergency shutdown).

Last weekend, for the first time in years, Entergy officials chose to shut down the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in anticipation of a winter storm. Photo courtesy of Entergy

Last weekend, for the first time in years, Entergy officials chose to shut down the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in anticipation of a winter storm. Photo courtesy of Entergy

Just prior to winter storm Juno, critics made a concerted effort to convince plant officials to err on the side of caution.

A joint letter from Pilgrim Watch and the Duxbury Nuclear Advisory Committee asked Entergy to heed the weathermen’s warnings.

“The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on Cape Cod Bay is directly in the path of the potentially historic winter storm due to hit Plymouth, Mass., starting tonight, Monday, Jan. 26,” the letter read. “There is a coastal flood warning, coastal flood watch, blizzard warning and hazardous weather outlook in effect for Plymouth, according to NOOA.”

But the plant remained operational at the start of Juno, until power supply problems forced Entergy’s hand.

Last Saturday, however, Pilgrim decided early on to shut down the nuclear reactor.

Just before the plant went offline Saturday, the plant issued the following statement: “In preparation for Storm Neptune, Pilgrim Station made the decision to take the plant off line. We are following plant procedures to prepare for a potential loss of offsite power or the grid’s inability to accept the power Pilgrim generates. As always, safety is our number one priority and there is no threat to the safety of plant workers or the general public.”

When asked why Pilgrim opted this time to err on the side of greater caution, Pilgrim Spokesperson Lauren Burm said, “We follow plant procedures that direct specific actions based on weather conditions.”

When plant critics and the NRC were asked if there were any further explanations or motivations, critics responded with, among other things, a list from Dave Lochbaum, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, of all the times since 1975 that Pilgrim has officially experienced a LOOP (Loss Of Offsite Power).

In 1975, Lochbaum wrote, “Operators were shutting down the reactor when the turbine tripped. During the ensuing in-plant electrical power transfers, blown fuses de-energized the startup and auxiliary 345 kilovolt lines, causing a loss of offsite power and an automatic reactor scram.”

During the famous Blizzard of 1978, the reactor was scrammed, as well, when “heavy snowfall caused electrical breakers in the 345 kilovolt switchyard to flashover and trip.”

In August of that year, Lochbaum wrote, “The reactor automatically scrammed from 100 percent power when lightning struck transmission lines causing a loss of offsite power.”

The plant experienced additional LOOPs in 1979, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993, but not again until 2013 and then twice this year.

Lochbaum noted that the cause of these events was power supply transfers (twice), lightning strikes (four times), high winds (four times), storms (twice), ice and snow during blizzards (five times), plus a solar storm and a forest fire (once each).

Since 1975, the plant has lost offsite power 20 times.

That would appear to be an argument for the precautionary shutdown of the plant as major storms approach. But when the plant is shut down, Entergy loses, by some estimates, close to $1 million a day.

NRC Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan said the plant was not pressured, and that his agency was in close communication with Entergy during the decision-making process and the shutdown.

“The decision to shut down the Pilgrim nuclear power plant was a voluntary action on the part of Entergy,” Sheehan said. “It was not an action sought or required by the NRC.

“That said,” Sheehan added, “given the forecast intensity of this particular storm, and in light of other challenges Pilgrim has experienced during severe winter storms, this planned and orderly shutdown in advance of the approaching blizzard was a prudent precautionary action.”

Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.

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