Energy Northwest settles dispute with NRC over lax security at Columbia plant

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Energy Northwest have settled in mediation, as part of the NRC’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, a dispute related to security violations at the Columbia Generating Station in Washington state.

A confirmatory order was issued to the licensee on Sept. 28, and has an effective date of Oct. 28, said the NRC in a notice to be published in the Oct. 13 Federal Register.

In December 2013, the NRC’s Office of Investigations (OI), Region IV Field Office, initiated an investigation to determine whether nuclear security officers (NSOs) assigned to the plant were willfully inattentive while on duty. The investigation was completed on March 11, 2015. Based on the results of the investigation, the NRC concluded that, on multiple occasions in 2012, 2013, and 2014, two security officers willfully violated federal regulations in that they were not available at all times inside the protected area for their assigned response duties.

On Aug. 6, 2015, Energy Northwest and the NRC met in an ADR session mediated by a professional mediator, arranged through the Cornell University Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution.

The NRC recognizes the corrective actions that Energy Northwest has already implemented associated with the events that formed the basis of this matter. These actions at CGS include:

  • Informational briefings to NSOs on all shifts regarding the severity and the consequences of the incidents that formed the basis for this violation; and the reinforcement of using mitigation tools to avoid inattentiveness;
  • Discussions with NSOs regarding regulatory requirements and the overall role security plays in the nuclear industry;
  • Review of professionalism standards and expectations, as well as a code of ethics with NSOs and supervisors on each shift;
  • Installation and use of surveillance cameras in bullet resistant enclosures (BREs);
  • Increased frequency of radio checks to all posts and patrols; and
  • Increased supervisory checks of posts and patrols.

Within three months of the date of this confirmatory order, Energy Northwest will conduct a common cause evaluation related to the events that formed the basis of this matter. The common cause evaluation will be conducted by a trained individual outside of the Emergency Services organization at the plant. The results will be incorporated into Energy Northwest’s corrective action program, as appropriate.

Within 18 months of the date of this confirmatory order, Energy Northwest will install wide-angle cameras in BREs to monitor the availability of nuclear security officers. The cameras will be monitored by security supervisors (i.e., Sergeant or Lieutenant) at a frequency of not less than twice per shift per BRE when cameras are functional.

The Columbia Generating Station produces approximately 1,190 MW. All of its output is provided to the Bonneville Power Administration at the cost of production under a formal “net billing” agreement in which BPA pays the costs of maintaining and operating the facility. Columbia began delivering power to the region in 1984.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.