NRC to Commissioners: Pilgrim Making Progress But Concerns Remain

COURTESY PILGRIM NUCLEAR POWER STATION

WASHINGTON – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s five-member commission was provided an update yesterday in Washington on the underperforming Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

NRC staff and officials from Entergy, the plant’s owner, discussed the actions taken over the last year to improve safety at the plant, which was placed under the highest level of oversight in 2015.

The station was placed in Column 4 of the NRC’s action matrix, which is one step away from a federally mandated shutdown, in the wake of a series of safety violations and unplanned shutdowns of the reactor.

Unplanned scrams led to the Column 4 designation.

The federal agency has been conducting additional inspections at the station, which is expected to shut down by the end of May 2019, ever since.

NRC Regional Administrator for Region 1 David Lew said Pilgrim has made notable progress in its recovery in 2017 and early 2018.

“Our inspectors have observed continued emphasis and reinforcement to the Entergy staff by senior site leadership on standards, expectations and conservative operational decision making,” Lew said.

Lew provided several examples of conservative decision making including remaining at 70 percent power during an additional tidal cycle through Tropical Storm Jose last year to ensure that tide and wind effects would not challenge temperature limits in the intake while the plant was at full power.

Entergy also delayed the startup of Pilgrim and took precautions in anticipation of the effects of Winter Storm Skyler earlier this year.

“Also in response to a trip of the startup transformer Entergy conducted significant testing and inspections which led to the identification of an internal fault and the replacement of this risk significant transformer,” Lew said.

Pilgrim did not experience any scrams in 2017, which is significant as scrams led to the plant being placed under Column 4 and increased oversight.

There was a scram in January of 2018.

“But plant equipment and licensed operator response were appropriate and the loss of the one offsite power supply that led operators to manually scram the reactor was due to equipment not owned by Entergy and located miles away from the plant,” Lew said.

Lew says concerns remain for the plant in areas of work control, human performance and equipment reliability.

The plant will remain in Column 4 until Entergy proves they have addressed all of the issues outlined in the NRC’s Confirmatory Action Letter.

The plant’s first quarterly report of 2018 indicated that Pilgrim had addressed 25 percent of 156 areas of improvement.

Pilgrim has had two straight quarterly inspection reports without any documented violations.

The NRC recently finished a third quarterly inspection at the plant and will soon be issuing a report.

“There remains a substantial amount of NRC inspection to be completed before we can determine the sustainability of performance improvement at Pilgrim,” Lew said.

Entergy Chief Nuclear Officer Chris Bakken says Pilgrim is committed to safely operating the plant until its June 2019 shutdown and through the decommissioning process.

“At Entergy our top priority continues to be operating our facilities in a safe, conservative and deliberate manner,” Bakken said. “In addition to safety our other values are teamwork, always learning, integrity and respect.”

Bakken said the company’s goal is to return Pilgrim to Column 1 in the spring of 2019, prior to shut down.

Pilgrim Site Vice President Brian Sullivan echoed the statements from Bakken and said an ongoing focus will be made over the next year to continue improvement and sustainability.

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