NRC launches tougher oversight of Pilgrim – which is scheduled for retirement

With the New Year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is increasing its oversight activities at the Entergy (NYSE:ETR) Pilgrim nuclear power plant, the Massachusetts facility that the company has promised to retire no later than mid-2019.

Entergy announced in October that it plans to close the 680-MW boiling water reactor (BWR) no later than June 2019. Entergy Wholesale Commodities (EWC) President Bill Mohl said the plant could close in the spring of 2017, rather than going ahead with a regularly-scheduled refueling outage.

But prior to the Entergy announcement, NRC had earmarked Pilgrim for a formal review process amid performance concerns at the plant.

In September 2015, the agency announced the finalization of an inspection finding for the Plymouth, Mass., facility. Classified as “White,” or of low to moderate safety significance, the finding stemmed from issues involving the plant’s safety relief valves.

Based on that enforcement action, in combination with two earlier “White” findings received by the plant, Pilgrim moved to Column 4, of the agency’s Action Matrix, which dictates the agency’s level of oversight at plants, NRC again noted in a Jan. 11 blog post.

NRC going ahead with three-part improvement plan at Pilgrim

“We said at the time that the plant would be subjected to numerous hours of inspections above the normal level as a consequence of the change. While all of the specific details of the increased oversight are not yet in place, we’ve notified the plant’s owner, Entergy, that the inspection process would entail three phases,” NRC said in the online posting.

Phase “A” of the 95003 process – that number refers to an inspection procedure for plants in Column 4 — is scheduled to occur this week. It will involve a review of various aspects of the plant’s corrective action program, with a specific focus on older items that were in need of attention. A plant’s corrective action program serves the vital purpose of ensuring problems are addressed in a timely manner.

The objective will be to determine if continued operation is acceptable and whether additional regulatory actions are required to arrest declining performance, NRC said.

Current plans call for Phase “B” to be carried out during the week of April 4. During that phase, the NRC will evaluate the overall performance of the plant’s corrective action program since a “problem identification and resolution inspection” was completed there last August, NRC said. In other words, this phase will be keyed to more recent corrective actions, particularly since the plant entered Column 4.

Each of those phases will be performed by three inspectors from the NRC’s Region I Office in King of Prussia, Pa.

Based on the results of those first two phases, the NRC will develop a plan for, and map out the scope of, Phase “C.” It will cover items not inspected during the first two phases and include an assessment of the plant’s safety culture and such areas as human performance, equipment reliability and procedure quality.

What’s more, the inspectors will review the work done as part of the plant’s performance improvement plan. That plan is due to be submitted to the NRC sometime in mid-2016.

“This final phase will be the most comprehensive of the three and will seek to inform the agency’s decision on whether sufficient progress has been made to end the agency’s increased oversight of the facility,” NRC said. The timeframe for that review will be available later this year.

Another step will be the NRC’s issuance of a Confirmatory Action Letter to Pilgrim that will spell out actions needed for the plant to satisfy any remaining safety concerns. The agency will subsequently inspect the company’s follow-through on those commitments.

NRC has already performed focused inspections at the plant, in such areas as operator performance, preparations for adverse weather, and problem identification and resolution.

In addition, the NRC has added a third Resident Inspector – there are normally two — assigned to Pilgrim since November.

“Even though Entergy has announced that Pilgrim will be shutting down no later than June 2019, the NRC remains committed to our safety oversight, with these inspections helping to inform our determinations,” NRC said.

http://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2016/01/11/nrc-embarks-on-first-phase-of-increased-oversight-process-at-pilgrim/

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.