Entergy has posted workers on fire watch after realizing the plant never addressed a 1992 federal advisory
PLYMOUTH — Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station operators have posted workers on fire watch after realizing the plant never addressed a 1992 federal advisory regarding remote reactor shutdown.
In that advisory, federal regulators warned operators at all U.S. nuclear power plants that a fire in the control room could cause short-circuits in systems that power valves needed for such a shutdown.
At Pilgrim, operators were reviewing the plant’s fire emergency shutdown plan Monday when they discovered that issue had never been addressed.
Since the discovery, Pilgrim operators have stationed workers at two locations to “keep a lookout that no flames erupt,” according to Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “They will keep fire watches there until they can take some remedial action.”
Lauren Burm, spokeswoman for Entergy, Pilgrim’s owner-operator, said in an email that fire protection engineers determined fire watches, where trained personnel walk around specific areas looking for evidence of fire, were necessary and are now underway. “The station has established robust levels of manual and automatic fire detection and suppression in all critical areas,” Burm said. “And fire watches are performed as an additional layer of protection.”
An apparent fix is in the works. “Engineering modifications are under development and will be implemented to address the issue,” Burm wrote.
Sheehan stressed a control room fire is “an unlikely scenario.” “The underlying issue is the concern over electrical short-circuit issues which would make it difficult to shut down the plant,” Sheehan said.
Burm did not comment on the plant’s failure to address the short-circuit potential raised in 1992.
Sheehan said the NRC would be assessing why regulators did not pick up on the noncompliance.
“Generically speaking, it is the responsibility of the company to comply with our regulations and address any safety issues,” he said. “We perform targeted inspections to evaluate compliance with our requirements, but we cannot touch on every aspect of plant operations.”
The advisory noted the “hot shorts” could be avoided by rewiring the control circuitry for the motorized valves. The shortcoming is classified by the NRC as a “condition that significantly degrades plant safety,” and therefore it required plant operators to file a report.
This is not the first time Pilgrim has not complied with long-ago directives to fix shortcomings. On Thursday, federal regulators chastised Entergy for failing to fix a meteorological tower that had been broken since March 2012.
The tower — needed to provide data on wind speed and direction — was a backup to the 220-foot main tower on the reactor property. On eight occasions in the last three years the main tower was not working. If an accident had occurred during those times, Pilgrim operators would have had to rely on the National Weather Service in Taunton to determine which areas were in danger of contamination.
— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT