Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Reports “Degradation” Issue in Spent Fuel Pool



COURTESY: Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station

PLYMOUTH – The owners of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth have notified federal regulators about a problem with a neutron-absorbing panel in the plant’s spent fuel pool.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Entergy said they are evaluating the degradation of a panel made of a material known as Boraflex.

The degradation can happen from the combined effects of gamma radiation from spent fuel and long-term exposure to the pool environment.

According to the NRC, the plant’s owners said preliminary results indicate the spent fuel pool is and will remain stable, or the technical term of “substantially subcritical.”

“The company really needs to, in a scientific manner, provide assurance that the pool will not be in any danger of experiencing a criticality event,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Regulators also said that Entergy declared six rack locations adjacent to the degraded Boraflex panel as “inoperable” and blocked them from being used for storage.

Entergy previously announced that they would close Pilgrim on May 31, 2019, but undergo one more refueling next year.

According to the NRC, maintaining the neutron-absorbing materials in spent nuclear fuel pools is needed in case of a “self-sustaining fissioning reaction” involving spent fuel.

If there was a failure of the neutron-absorbing panels, the water in the pool could heat up and boil, hindering the ability to cool the fuel rods.

“The company needs to continue to ensure safe storage of this highly radioactive material,” Sheehan said.

Federal regulators said the on-scene inspectors are aware of the issue and will monitor Entergy’s actions to address the problem.

The NRC said that any problem involving the spent fuel pool would be slow to develop and would allow ample time for response actions.

The agency asked all nuclear power plant operators in April to provide a response as to whether this type of degradation was an issue.

Entergy told the NRC that it is still working on a safety analysis and expects to provide more information to regulators in a supplemental report.

Pilgrim has been under increased scrutiny since last year by the NRC because of safety violations and unplanned shutdowns.

Their status under “Column 4” opened the plant to increased scrutiny. That designation made the Plymouth facility the second-worst performing nuclear plant in America.

Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien said they’ve kept the NRC up to date on the degradation problem.

“We’ve put protective measures in place to ensure safety is maintained and the spent fuel pool remains subcritical. We’ve been keeping the NRC apprised, so they’re fully aware of our actions we’ve taken to mitigate the issue,” said O’Brien.

Longtime opponents of Pilgrim previously called for the immediate shut down of the plant, calling it a “dangerous time” for the facility and people living in the area.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that a worker at Pilgrim failed to conduct over 200 mandatory fire watches at the Plymouth facility.

The NRC said that worker, who is no longer employed at Pilgrim, falsified inspection reports to make it look as if the fire checks had been completed.

The plant first began generating electricity in 1972. According to Entergy, Pilgrim generates enough electricity to power more than 600,000 homes.

By MATT PITTA, CapeCod.com News Director

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