Safety Valve Malfunction Forces Temporary Pilgrim Shutdown



PLYMOUTH – The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth is temporarily shutting down after plant officials discovered a malfunction in a valve designed to stop radioactive materials from escaping into the environment in the event of an nuclear accident.

This is the second time in the last year that a safety valve issue has forced Pilgrim to power down.

During testing on Tuesday, one of station’s four Main Stream Isolation Valves failed to close fast enough to meet federal standards. The valves need to close within 5 seconds, which it did not. Entergy officials say the valve closed in just over 5 seconds.

Pilgrim engineers will shut down the reactor this weekend to repair the issue. It is not yet known how long the repair process will take or how long the station will be offline, according to spokesman Patrick O’Brien.

“There is no challenge to the safety to the plant or the public,” O’Brien said of the repair process.

The valve issue is the latest in a string of safety equipment problems discovered at the plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission downgraded Pilgrim’s status last year following a series of unplanned shutdowns and inspection findings.

“[The valve] would come in to play during the very low probability of a severe accident, but nevertheless this is an issue that needs to be addressed,” said NRC Spokesman Neil Sheehan.

“Entergy is evaluating the cause of the valve slowness and will have to develop a plan to fix the problem,” Sheehan added in an e-mail.

Earlier this week, plant officials were forced to reduce power after water temperatures exceeded 75 degrees in Cape Cod Bay, the maximum allowed under the station’s federal license. Pilgrim pulls water from Cape Cod Bay to cool the reactor, before returning the water to the bay.

Pilgrim is one of the three worst performing plants in the country in the eyes of the NRC, along with two reactors in Arkansas, both owned by Pilgrim-operator Entergy. The three stations are the only in America in Column 4 of the NRC’s five column action matrix. Stations that are downgraded to Column 5 are subject to a federal shutdown.

NRC inspectors have completed two phases of their additional Column 4 oversight at Pilgrim. Entergy will have to notify federal regulators when they are ready for the final phase of inspections, believed to be sometime within the next 6 months, according to O’Brien.

The NRC will review the station’s standing once the three phases of the inspections are complete.

Pilgrim is scheduled to close down in June of 2019. Entergy says the station is no longer financially viable.

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