Pilgrim performance rating hit by storm shutdown

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Cape Cod Times, Jan. 31, 2015
Electrical problems, on and off site, had forced the plant to shut down during the snowstorm. While Entergy, the plant’s owner-operator, characterized the shutdown as going according to procedure, there were a few bumps along the way, based on the required event notification form submitted to federal regulators.

PLYMOUTH — Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s performance rating will take a hit because of glitches during the plant’s hasty shutdown early Tuesday morning during this week’s fierce nor’easter, according to a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Electrical problems, on and off site, forced the plant to shut down during the snowstorm. While Entergy Corp., the plant’s owner and operator, characterized the shutdown as going according to procedure, there were a few bumps along the way, according to the required event notification form submitted to federal regulators.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with the reactor fully shut down but still cooling, plant operators discovered the high pressure coolant injection system, the primary system used to cool down the reactor, was inoperable. Workers then used safety relief valves to release the steam produced by the core.

Steam in General Electric Mark 1 Boiling Water reactors, like Pilgrim, is ultimately channeled to containment pools filled with water whether the cooling injection system or the relief valve system is used, said David Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“They need to figure out why the high pressure coolant injection system didn’t work right, but it didn’t make a big difference in this event,” he said.

The reactor’s power down will be classified by federal regulators as “an unplanned scram (shutdown) with complications,” a classification that caused the Plymouth plant last February to be listed among a handful nationwide that require more federal oversight.

“Our resident inspectors assigned to Pilgrim are continuing to follow up on the loss of the plant’s high pressure coolant injection system during the shutdown, the loss of off-site power and other challenges that occurred during the event,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan wrote in an email.

After unplanned shutdowns occurring in 2013 lowered the Plymouth plant’s rating to among the nine worst in the country, Pilgrim had no unplanned shutdowns at all in 2014.

Pilgrim could have been moved back to a level requiring a normal standard of oversight but failed to pass a recent federal inspection.

The impact of this latest unplanned shutdown will be reflected in the NRC’s quarterly reports, issued in April.

NStar’s two lines to Pilgrim were repaired at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and are now powering safety and auxiliary systems for the plant, according to Entergy spokeswoman Lauren Burm.   Pilgrim remains offline while workers do some necessary maintenance, Burm said.

Burm said she couldn’t comment on when the plant will restart because it is “market sensitive information that we are not allowed to share by federal regulations.”

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