The Nuclear Regulator Commission (NRC) said Monday it was sending a team of 20 inspectors with expertise in a variety of disciplines to begin a three-week “top-to-bottom review” of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass.
The inspection of the plant, owned and operated by Entergy, will be undertaken for two weeks in December plus a third week in January, the NRC said. It will involve inspectors from four regional NRC offices. All together, the review will be the third and most comprehensive inspection that is part of the agency's heightened scrutiny initiated in September 2015, when the plant was placed in the agency's “Multiple/Repetetive Degraded Cornerstone,” designation. That category is one step removed from “Unacceptable,” the level that mandates a nuclear power plant suspend operations until the security or safety problems are fixed.
We're going to go in and look at equipment reliability, human performance, the plant's safety culture, which means is there an environment there where workers feel free to raise safety concerns?” the State House News Service quoted NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan as saying.
“Among the areas the Phase C team will concentrated on will be the quality of the plant's procedures and its corrective action program, which is used to fix problems that arise at the facility based on a prioritized basis,” the NRC said in a statement.
On Sept. 2, 2016, Entergy notified the regulator that it believed the plant was ready for the follow up inspection that would scrutinize progress on its corrective plan. “Our team will work hard to closely examine the adequacy of the plant's recovery plans, as well as actions that Entergy has taken to address safety performance issues at the facility. Just as importantly, the inspectors will assess whether those activities have yielded tangible and lasting improvements,” said NRC Region I Administrator Dan Dorman.
Under the NRC's Reactor Oversight Process, plants are awarded a color that designates its safety performance and assigns a level of oversight. The colors range from green – connoting very low safety or security concerns at the facility – to white, yellow or red, designating higher and higher levels of concern.
On Sept. 2, 2015, the NRC finalized a white (low to moderate safety significance) inspection finding for the plant stemming from a winter storm-induced shutdown in January 2015 that involved the plant's safety relief valves. As a result of this action, in combination with two earlier white performance indicators for the plant, Pilgrim moved to the Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone (or Column 4) designation.
The NRC’s higher level of scrutiny has already entailed two team inspections at Pilgrim. The Phase A inspection took place in January and examined various aspects of the plant’s corrective action program.
The NRC report on that review identified one green finding (indicating very low safety significance) involving a failure to adequately correct water leakage from the core spray system. The Phase B inspection carried out in April focused on the effectiveness of the corrective action program during the time the plant has been under increased oversight. The report on that inspection identified one green violation, involving the inadequate implementation of a corrective action to revise a maintenance procedure. It also discussed issues that had not been properly closed out. As was the case with the first two reviews, the results of the Phase C inspection will be documented in a report due to be released within 45 days following the formal conclusion of the inspection. The NRC will also issue a Confirmatory Action Letter to Entergy to document its commitments and identify actions it will have to take in order to transition back to normal levels of oversight.
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Sounds like the communications channels between the plant site and the NRC are degraded. The onsite inspector should have found these problems and followed up on the resolution.