NRC Inspectors to Begin Pilgrim Reactor Operator Review

COURTESY PILGRIM NUCLEAR POWER STATION

PLYMOUTH – Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors will begin administering requalification exams Monday at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.

Reactor operators, who are licensed by the NRC, will complete written and hands on examinations.

“The operators are tested in what’s known as ‘the simulator’ which is an exact replica of a control room where the operators can be put through a variety of scenarios to see how they would respond.”

The NRC requires requalification every two years.

Sheehan said the review is important because it’s the last time plant operators will be tested before Entergy’s scheduled shutdown in 2019.

“We want to make sure the operators that the operators do their job as safely and as effectively as possible until the control rods are inserted for the final time,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said the review is a rigorous set of exams.

“If they are unable to do that then the company may have to put in place some remedial action,” he said.

Pilgrim is one of three reactors in the nation to be under the NRC’s highest level of oversight for several unplanned shutdowns and safety violations.

“We’re aware that there have been human performance issues at Pilgrim, there have been equipment challenges, there have been some management issues,” Sheehan said. “We are very mindful of that going into these inspections to make sure that these operations know exactly how to respond to a variety of scenarios and it’s a job of high responsibility and we take very seriously their ability to perform that as safely as possible.”

Sheehan said the NRC will also be on the lookout for any shortcomings in the training of the reactor operators.

The examinations will be administered by a team of three inspectors, along with Donald Jackson, the chief of operations for the NRC’s northeast region.

Jackson previously wrote an internal e-mail claiming that Pilgrim employees were “overwhelmed just trying to run the station.”

The comments came last winter after Jackson led a team of more than a dozen inspectors on a thorough, three week long evaluation of the facility.

The plants last inspection came in July and contained five “green”, or very low safety significance non-cited violations, one severity Level IV violation and one violation identified by Entergy.

Two of the green inspection findings are associated with an event that took place on March 31.

At that time, operators incorrectly realigned valves, causing 55,000 gallons of water to rush out of a storage tank and into the base of the reactor.

Inspection findings included a failure to follow procedures and failure by Pilgrim control room operators to recognize an issue with the water level indicators.

Another two of the inspection findings were associated with Entergy removing the safety function of standby gas and secondary containment.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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