NRC’s Macfarlane tells Markey that Palisades is safe

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Allison M. Macfarlane has told Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., NRC is satisfied an Entergy (NYSE: ETR) subsidiary’s Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan is safe following a leak problem this summer.

“At this time, the NRC staff is satisfied the plant can operate safely,” Macfarlane said in an Oct. 5 reply letter to Markey. The letter was in response to various questions that Markey had submitted to NRC in an Aug. 30 letter. Markey had questioned NRC about the shutdown at Palisades.

Entergy said in a July 11 news release that the plant had exited a 28-day outage to do repairs to the plant’s safety injection / refueling water tank. The aluminum SIRW tank is 50 feet in diameter and 35 feet tall. It holds up to 300,000 gallons of borated water that is used to fill the reactor cavity during refueling outages and to act as a source for the plant’s safety injection system in the event of a loss of coolant accident.

“The NRC staff will evaluate the licensee’s root cause evaluation report and make sure the results are properly considered in any actions going forward to ensure continued safety,” Macfarlane said.

The reactor had just restarted from an outage on July 10 but the source of the leak was not known at the time. Markey quizzed NRC on various aspects of the steam leak in the control rod drive mechanism that was discovered during the Aug. 12 review. The congressman raised questions about the cause and repairs of the leaks and how the leak was handled.

In his August letter to NRC, Markey said Entergy’s track record at Palisades has been unimpressive since the company received a 20-year license renewal for the plant in 2007.

“Entergy’s license to operate Palisades was renewed on January 17, 2007, extending its licensee from 2011 to 2031,” Markey said. “In less than six years since the license was renewed, the NRC has issued six Escalated Enforcement Actions to Palisades. This history and the recent safety culture assessment do not inspire confidence that Palisades will be able to operate safely for the more than 19 years left in its operating license,” the congressmen added.

Markey asked if NRC was satisfied that Palisades can operate safely for the remainder of its license term.

“If at any time the NRC does not have reasonable assurance that a nuclear power plant can be operated safety, it has the authority to modify, suspend, or revoke an initial or renewed license,” Macfarlane replied.

Macfarlane declined to provide the lawmaker with a copy of the “full report” of the safety culture assessment, citing confidentiality reasons.

“A critical element in the conduct of safety culture surveys is confidentiality. Employees must believe that they can share their observations in complete confidentiality for the sole purpose of improving the quality of their workplace,” Macfarlane said.  “Without this assurance, employees will not participate in the survey and the information needed to improve performance and enhance safety would be lost,” the NRC chair said.

Entergy purchased the roughly 800-MW pressurized water reactor unit from CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS) in 2006.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.