Special Inspection Reveals 13 New Violations at Pilgrim, Cape Legislative Delegation Demands Shutdown

PLYMOUTH – A special inspection of the troubled Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has revealed 13 additional safety violations at the plant, leading the Cape and Islands legislative delegation to demand a shutdown of the Plymouth facility.

At a public meeting Tuesday night at Plymouth’s Memorial Hall, officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission restated their assessment that Pilgrim is operating safely, despite criticisms of the plant’s senior operations management and of the station’s overall safety culture.

Along with the 13 safety violations uncovered during the recent three-week special inspection, the plant is facing 23 inspection findings stemming from more than 12,000 hours of federal review in 2016 as part of Pilgrim’s annual NRC assessment.

The NRC said their oversight confirmed “adequate safety margins were maintained” at the plant. The station will remain as one of only three reactors in the nation in Column 4 of the NRC’s action matrix, one step away from a federal shutdown order.

Those findings were not acceptable to legislators from the Cape and Islands, who issued a joint statement calling on federal officials to not allow the plant to be refueled in the spring and instead to be shutdown.

“My take on our statement is simply this: it is a vote of no confidence in the leadership team at Pilgrim Nuclear Station and, by extension, the corporation of Entergy,” said State Rep. Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich).

“I am not a nuclear engineer, but I was an auditor for many years and I have a very sensitive BS meter. Tonight, it went off many times,” Hunt added.

“In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out, what is it for Entergy and the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station?” asked Cape and Islands State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro).

The statement was issued by State Reps. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster), Will Crocker (R-Centerville), David Vieira (R-Falmouth), Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth), Hunt, and Cyr. Marshfield Rep. James Cantwell, a Democrat, also joined the Cape delegation in issuing the call for the station’s closure.

Plant officials acknowledged the station has struggled with its safety culture, but argued that the station remains safe.

“I don’t think you can get to Column 4 in any nuclear power plant without some level of a safety culture problem,” said Pilgrim spokesperson Patrick O’Brien.“We’ve done a very deep diagnostic on that issue and we have procedures and actions in place to really drive that and improve safety culture.”

“If I felt we weren’t safe to operate, we wouldn’t be operating,” said John Dent, the Site Vice President for Entergy. “We’ve been working aggressively on improving performance for some time now.”

Representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, including Lead Inspector Don Jackson (second from left), addressed a recent special inspection of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

Lead NRC inspector Don Jackson acknowledged that his team observed some improvements during the course of the inspection, but criticized Pilgrim for a lack of leadership in the wake of the plant’s downgraded safety rating.

“The senior licensed operators, frankly, got you in to Column 4 and they are going to be the group that gets you out of Column 4. It was not my sense when we were on-site that they think that way,” Jackson said. “We did not notice that level of ownership in the operations department and you could see that in the conduct of control room activities.

Jackson did however praise staff at Pilgrim, describing them as competent.

The NRC has identified three “fundamental problem areas” at the station, which the team of 20 inspectors was tasked with evaluating. They include Pilgrim’s corrective action program, a process by which the station tries to improve its performance, decision-making and risk recognition, and nuclear safety culture.

Among the 13 most recent inspection findings, one has the possibility to carry asafety violation above the lowest violation level.

Pilgrim will be cited for a design issue with its main emergency diesel generator. Federal inspectors say the station failed to report the problem, failed to conduct the appropriate maintenance, and failed to follow the operability determination process.

All other findings are expected to come in as “green” violations, the lowest on the NRC’s citation scale. They include issues with safety relief valves, drywell liners, a residual heat exchanger, and a feedwater regulating valve failure.

11 of the findings were discovered by NRC inspectors, while two were reported by Entergy.

Federal officials said the recent inspection highlights that continued enhanced oversight remains necessary at Pilgrim and will keep a third resident inspector on-site for the foreseeable future.

An official report on the special inspection will be released within the next 45 days and is expected sometime in April.

The station is scheduled to close in 2019. Entergy is planning one more refueling of the facility in the spring.

Local lawmakers were briefed on the inspection findings at a government-to-government meeting on Monday, prompting the joint statement from the Cape and Islands delegation.

That statement can be read below:

Thank for very much for your presentation yesterday. We wish we could say that based on your presentation we feel comforted and confident that the ongoing operation of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will be flawless and uninterrupted. Unfortunately, we came away from that meeting with as many or more concerns that we had prior to the meeting.

Most alarming, were the NRC findings around “Safety Culture.” To quote from your PowerPoint presentation “Pilgrim leaders have not held themselves and their subordinates accountable to high standards of performance.” It is no wonder that the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station remains at a category 4 level.

As you described it, management’s response to improving the safety culture was underwhelming. At best, they displayed incompetence, having no idea how to change their corporate culture for the better; at worst, they were just extending their “middle finger” to you the NRC, to the surrounding Plymouth community, and to all who are potentially affected by their poor operating standards. That includes our constituents and most residents of Massachusetts.

Let’s remember, this is a critique of safety culture at a nuclear power plant. Their attitude and response would be alarming in any factor or manufacturing setting, but here the consequences of this culture continuing are far more dire.

Because of our concerns based on past performance and our ongoing concerns stemming from your report, we ask that the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant not be refueled this spring and that the orderly shutdown of this plant begin immediately.

As part of that shutdown process, we ask that the Town of Plymouth be made whole and that Entergy’s agreement with them for the PILOT payments be honored. The Town’s finances should not be further jeopardized because Entergy’s seeming inability to correct safety and the safety culture at the plant.

Also of critical importance is the establishment or continuation of a robust program benefiting the non-management workers who will be displaced during the shutdown.

We understand that ISO New England has contracted with Entergy to supply power into 2019 and that there is a penalty clause in that contract. We will work with the Baker Administration, ISO New England, and Entergy to lift the yoke of any proposed penalty.

We further ask that the NRC continue to have inspectors present at the plant both while it’s operation and after it ceases producing energy. The lax safety culture has a half life, just as the spent fuel does. It will continue to be critically important that plant operations are monitored and all involved in the operation and shutdown are help to the highest safety standards.

Thank you for you time.

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