NRC approves delay for PPL Susquehanna nuclear drill

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved a request by a PPL (NYSE: PPL) subsidiary to delay a portion of its onsite emergency drill at the Susquehanna nuclear plant in Pennsylvania from October 2012 until February 2013.

The NRC authorized the exemption in a Dec. 21 Federal Register filing. Susquehanna is a two-unit boiling water reactor in Salem Township in Luzerne County, Pa. The two reactors together have a generating capacity of more than 2,500 MW.

The NRC agreed that Susquehanna faced special circumstances that justified postponement because of an unplanned outage at Unit 1 that resulted from “fatigue cracking” experienced on the Unit 1 turbine blades.

On Oct. 3, Susquehanna’s low pressure turbine supplier recommended that the plant remove the Unit 1 main turbine  from service in order to conduct certain inspections.

The licensee removed Unit 1 from service on Oct. 20, 2012. According to the licensee, the Unit 1 shutdown affected the availability of a significant number of employees. The group of affected employees included some key managers who would have been needed for the emergency drill.

When the licensee submitted its letter dated November 16, 2012, Unit 1 had been restored to service and the licensee had determined, based on the results of the Unit 1 turbine blade outage, that it would also shut down Unit 2 for the same inspection.

Federal rules require that commercial nuclear plants hold an exercise to test their onsite emergency plans every two years. The last such biennial exercise at Susquehanna occurred in October 2010.

Since then, Susquehanna experienced a real-life drill when an East Coast earthquake in August 2011 caused PPL to activate the plant’s technical support center.

PPL has also indicated that other measures have been taken to gauge the emergency preparedness at Susquehanna and only the onsite portion of the biennial drill is lacking.

The NRC said the requested exemption is authorized by law, will not present an undue risk to public health or safety. Susquehanna is currently expected to do the onsite portion of its emergency exercise by Feb. 16, 2013.

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.