PILGRIM STATION: Performance issues plague plant

By Frank Mand
Wicked Local Plymouth
Posted Dec 31, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

PLYMOUTH —

Traditionally, when Santa wants to show his displeasure he fills your stocking with coal. Fittingly, the folks at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station got shale gas instead this year.

No, 2013 was not a banner year for the 40-year old nuclear power plant.

The plant’s profitability was threatened in 2013 by a number of factors, from the abundance and lower cost of shale gas to a surprisingly large number of outages and days offline.

Every day the plant is not producing energy is a day that parent company Entergy is not making money.

Pilgrim was offline for 20 percent of 2013.

The last year did see plant officials make progress on a plan to construct a dry cask storage system on plant grounds. But the plan for that Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) comes with a hefty price tag ($150 million by some estimates) and has also experienced its share of stops and restarts.

When Pilgrim applied for the necessary permits for the work, Entergy had to hire local attorneys to fight environmental groups who said the company should have been required to obtain a special permit for the project.

The Zoning Board eventually decided to allow Entergy to proceed without a special permit, but that decision is still under appeal.

Even if the ISFSI is completed on schedule, it does not present a financial opportunity for the plant’s owners. Without additional storage space for spent fuel the plant would have to shut down in a few years, once it reached the legal capacity of its spent-fuel pool.

This year, Entergy admitted that Pilgrim’s financial viability is under pressure from market forces and, as part of an economic fine-tuning of all of its nuclear holdings, it would lay off several employees.

The plant’s management reported nearly two dozen “events” at the plant in 2013, including several instances during which offsite power was lost. As a result, the Nuclear Regulator Commission (NRC) downgraded the plant’s performance rating, requiring it to submit to additional inspections in the following year.

Despite all this, 2013 was the year that Entergy also agreed to a new, three-year, $29 million PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement with the town of Plymouth.

But it was also the year Entergy announced that Vermont Yankee (a similar New England nuclear plant) would be closed in 2015 – and the first year that Pilgrim’s host community set aside $1 million for a new mitigation fund, anticipating the economic fallout from Pilgrim’s closure.

The following represents a sampling of events at the plant in just the last six months of 2013.

  • A nonlicensed supervisor at the power plant failed a random fitness-for-duty test July 11, according to a notice received from the NRC.
  • The power station’s federal license requires a shutdown if the seawater used for cooling stays above 75 degrees. It briefly topped 75 one Tuesday night.
  • Entergy Nuclear announced cuts in the workforce at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station were under consideration.
  • Selectmen voted to approve a new $29 million PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement between the town and Entergy.
  • The Plymouth nuclear power plant shut down just before 8 a.m. when an electrical fault developed in the system that controls the pumps that supply the reactor’s water.
  • Crews repaired a leak in the plant’s feed water system. It was the second time in less than three weeks the plant had been offline.
  • Mechanical problems and multiple shutdowns forced the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station off line 72 days this year, raising concerns about the 685-megawatt nuclear plant and the possibility of increased scrutiny by federal regulators.
  • A loss of outside power forced the plant offline for the fourth time in 2013. A spokesman said the plant automatically shut down when an Nstar’s power line into the plant went out of service.
  • Federal regulators placed the plant on a list of 15 other underperforming nuclear reactors in the country. The decision stemmed from a rapid shutdown – called an unplanned scram – in September, when the plant’s feed water system developed a steam leak.
  • Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station officials announced the pending layoff of seven administrative positions.
  • Entergy officials appeared before the Board of Selectmen and made a strong case for the emergency procedures in place to prevent a Fukushima-like disaster from occurring here, even if the plant were hit by an earthquake and tsunami equal to those that struck the coast of Japan in 2011.
  • That same night the plant performed what the NRC describes as a “normal plant shutdown” because of a steam leak on a valve.
  • After an investigation that began last summer, federal inspectors found that Pilgrim had violated a security regulation.

via PILGRIM STATION: Performance issues plague plant – Plymouth, MA – Wicked Local Plymouth.

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