For over 10 years, there has been a serious flaw in the safety procedures at Progress Energy Florida’s Crystal River nuclear plant.
It didn’t happen, but a major radiation leak had occurred, nearby communities might not have found out “in a timely manner,” according to a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) report.
The NRC described the oversight as being of “low to moderate risk.” The report continued saying a key part of the problem was a lack of training for use of the radiation detection equipment.
“Personnel were not knowledgeable about the design and operation of the radiation monitors,” the NRC report said.
If a nuclear plant suffers a major radiation leak, the utility must have procedures for notifying the public so local authorities can order evacuations.
The procedure that Progress Energy wrote set the amount of radiation that would trigger a warning at a higher level than what the monitors could ever indicate, according to the NRC. So if the levels ever reached that high, it might not have been immediately clear to issue a warning to the community.
They could have solved the problem two ways: Rewrite the procedures to lower the radiation level that triggers a warning or use monitors that could measure the higher levels.
There was no indication any radiation went undetected at Crystal River, threatening public health. But had there been a major release of radiation into the community, workers at the plant would have had to rely on their knowledge, experience or some other indicator rather than the monitoring system to warn local authorities to evacuate residents, the NRC said.
“There are other ways to get some information,” NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said. But “they did not have equipment that could provide them information they needed.”
The problem with the monitoring procedure and equipment at the Crystal River plant dates to June 2000, when Progress Energy Florida changed its procedures to meet new standards.
Progress Energy should have caught the problem earlier, according to federal regulators.
An NRC inspection report stated that “there were several opportunities to identify the . . . error” — two from the lesson of other plants in May 2008 and September 2010, and a third when Progress Energy revised its procedures in July 2010.
Heather Danenhower, a spokeswoman for the Crystal River plant, said Progress Energy Florida eventually fixed the problem when workers discovered their procedures did not match the ability of their equipment to give proper warnings.
“This procedure issue did not pose a public health or safety concern,” Danenhower said. “The plant would have needed to sustain multiple failures during a real emergency for this circumstance to have any impact.
“Since the plant went into service in 1977, it has never needed to declare a ‘General Emergency’ — the most significant of four emergency classifications.”
The NRC notice sent out Tuesday identified two other plants with the same flaw, the Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin and the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Minnesota. Progress Energy Florida will not get a fine for the oversight. The notice was a warning to other nuclear operators to avoid similar problems.
Duke Energy said it will retire the Crystal River plant, which has been offline since 2009.