Major Pilgrim inspection will examine nuclear plant’s response to deficiencies

pilgrim nuclear power plant

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – A team of 20 federal inspectors will spend the next two weeks, and a week in January, conducting a top-to-bottom review of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station as part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s heightened scrutiny over the Plymouth plant.

The team, which draws experts from the NRC’s four regional offices and its headquarters, began an inspection Monday that will focus on the plant’s procedures and its corrective action plan, which is used to fix problems that crop up at the facility, the NRC said.

“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 — we’ll look at the plant’s procedures to make sure they’re what they should be,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told the News Service on Monday. “This is going to be a wide-ranging review … they’ll drill down and see what they find, see if the plant is on the right track to address some deficiencies.”

The inspection is the third and largest of its kind since Pilgrim was placed under tighter NRC oversight in September 2015 as a result of unplanned shutdowns. Owned and operated by Entergy, Pilgrim is one of three reactors under NRC oversight to be placed in the agency’s “Multiple/Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone” category, one step from the “Unacceptable Performance” category.

Pilgrim was moved to its current category — and became subject to additional inspections and NRC oversight — last year after an inspection found an issue of “low to moderate safety significance” stemming from a winter storm-induced and unplanned shutdown of the plant connected to an issue with its safety relief valves, according to the NRC.

“This inspection represents the most comprehensive element of our increased scrutiny at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant,” NRC Region I Administrator Dan Dorman said in a statement. “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.”

In a statement, Entergy said the inspection that began Monday “is the next step in Pilgrim’s process toward a return to industry excellence.”

“We have worked hard to address the issues that led to station performance decline and look forward to demonstrating to the NRC that we have made significant progress in these areas through the inspection process,” Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien said in an email.

O’Brien added that Entergy will not comment further on the inspection until the inspection report is released.

Previous inspections, in January and April, focused on the plant’s corrective action plan and steps taken at the facility since it was placed under tighter NRC control.

Sheehan said the inspection team is slated to work on site at Pilgrim for the next two weeks before returning to Plymouth for a third week of on-site inspection in January. A report detailing the results of the inspection will be released within 45 days of its conclusion, he said.

Pilgrim is scheduled to close by May 31, 2019 after refueling early next year. In operation for almost 45 years, Pilgrim can produce 680 megawatts of power using its boiling water reactor and is a major source of reliable electricity for Massachusetts.

As lawmakers this session worked on legislation to diversify the state’s energy mix, many expressed concern about ensuring that baseload energy needs are met once Pilgrim is decommissioned. According to the union that represents about 85 Pilgrim employees, Massachusetts will lose up to 17 percent of its current electrical power when the plant closes.

Anti-nuclear activists like Cape Downwinders have urged Gov. Charlie Baker to call upon the NRC to immediately close Pilgrim, arguing safety concerns at the plant have made it a “real and present danger to our entire region.”

Baker has previously deferred to the NRC to oversee an orderly shutdown of the plant and his administration has said the plant is safe.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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