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After uncovering a pattern of safety violations inside the plant, the Perry Nuclear Generating Station near Cleveland is now under the watchful eye of federal regulators.

The plant, located 35 miles east of Cleveland in North Perry, OH, opened in 1987 and produces enough electricity to power one million homes.

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It all started in 2011 when safety problems at Perry triggered an NRC response that dropped the plant two full safety levels to what it refers to as a “Column Three” plant, a “degraded” category shared with only two of 104 nuclear plants in the entire country.

“They were in ‘Column Three’ because they had several issues in the worker protection area,” said Chuck Casto, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Regional Administrator in one televised report. “Also they had one issue in security, which, obviously, I am not going to talk about.”

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Casto said they resolved the security issue, but Perry violated federal safety regulations when workers, in April 2011, removed an instrument from deep inside the reactor’s core.

“They misunderstood the conditions,” Casto said. “That instrument was highly radioactive.” Casto called it a “near miss” of “significantly overexposing some workers.”

Last March, NRC inspectors found “performance at the plant continued to exhibit weaknesses.” And in June, low level radioactive wastewater spilled onto the floor.

That event occurred when a pipe broke while moving from a storage tank to a shipping container, said Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman.

The company ended up realizing six months later they should have declared an “emergency condition” under NRC regulations.

“After some discussion with the NRC and after some discussion internally, we said we probably should look at right by where the spill was — how much did it go up,” Young said.

FirstEnergy failed to properly calculate radiation levels until a review of the incident last November, resulting in what the company calls “equivalent to a cat scan.” Even so, an NRC report into the spill called the incident a “performance deficiency.”

FirstEnergy said it is working hard to correct deficiencies at the plant and improve workers safety. Even so, the NRC has given the company a strong warning.

“We need to see behavior changes in terms of worker behavior with radiation,” Casto said. “Those changes need to be procedure changes and they need to be sustainable.”

The NRC expects to complete its series of investigations in the plant safety by this spring.

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