NRC: Pilgrim Operates Safely in 2017, But Remains Under Additional Oversight

COURTESY PILGRIM NUCLEAR POWER STATION

PLYMOUTH – Federal nuclear regulators detailed the findings of the annual assessment of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power StationTuesday, saying the plant operated safely in 2017 but did not improve its standing as one of the three worst performing reactors in the country.

At a public meeting, representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission noted “some improvement” in the operations of the Plymouth facility, but said the station needs to sustain those results before being taken out of Column 4 of the NRC’s action matrix.

In 2015, the station was placed in Column 4, one step away from a federally mandated shutdown, in the wake of a series of safety violations and unplanned shutdowns of the reactor. The federal agency has been conducting additional inspections at the station ever since.

In 2017, there were 33 safety violations at the plant, all considered “green,” or of very low safety significance.

The safety significance scale begins with green, on the low end, before moving to white, yellow and red.

“We have by no means arrived in the area of nuclear safety culture, but by all our measures our safety culture has improved and we continue to work on consistency and sustainability,” said Dave Noyes, the Recovery Director at Pilgrim Station.

“I think the key is the NRC determined we operated safely and securely in 2017 and they saw indications of improved performance,” said Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for Pilgrim. “They saw increased leadership standards and they saw improvements in the operations department. We know we have improve performance, and we know there’s a ways to go, but we’re not going to stop striving for excellence right through the closure date ofMay 31, 2019.”

The station is set to permanently close on that date. Plant-owner Entergy has promised jobs to all of the employees at Pilgrim following the closure of the 46-year-old facility.

In the annual assessment letter, the NRC credited new senior leadership at Pilgrim for helping to improve performance in 2017, but added that “a significant amount of work related to the performance recovery of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station remained for Entergy to complete.”

Local elected officials were critical of the NRC’s decision to remove one of the three resident inspectors at the station and expressed concern about the age and recent performance of the facility.

“Our level of concern about the safety and ongoing operation of the plant is increasing. What we are concerned about is the ongoing operations of what is a clearly an aging plant moving beyond what is its natural lifespan,” said State Rep. Sarah (D-Provincetown). Peake issued a statement along with State Rep. Will Crocker (R-Centerville) and State Rep. Matt Muratore (R-Plymouth)

In a statement, Attorney General Maura Healey criticized the plant for remaining open during the first March nor’easter, citing the station’s history of trouble during winter storms.

NRC staff spent more than 15,000 hours inspecting Pilgrim last year. There are three additional inspections of the facility planned this year and one is currently underway.

The station remains out of service after plant officials discovered they needed to replace a start-up transformer. Pilgrim has been offline since March 6 when a leak was discovered in a feedwater heating system and remained powered down through the subsequent winter storms.

The feedwater heating system issue has since been fixed, according to plant officials.

It is not yet known when the plant will return to service.

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