Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station came up short again during a special inspection conducted early last month as part of increased federal oversight of the problem-plagued plant in Plymouth, MA, based on a report issued last Monday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The inspection was the second of three required, based on Pilgrim’s demotion in the fall to one of the three worst reactors in the country.
In Monday’s report, federal regulators cited Entergy, owner-operator of the Plymouth plant, for lack of follow-through on maintenance of important systems. This also had been an issue during the first inspection, conducted in January.
The latest infraction involved the breakdown of bearings on one of the pumps used to draw millions of gallons of seawater from Cape Cod Bay into the plant to cool the reactor building through a closed system. The system “in turn cools emergency and safety-related systems,” according to the federal report.
Plant workers knew about the problems with the bearings before Nov. 7, when divers found fragments of broken bearings at the bottom of the bay inside the plant. The pump ended up declared inoperable and shut down. Entergy has since rebuilt the pump.
After the problem with the bearings ended up identified, it should have been a priority, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “In this case, the issue didn’t receive the attention that it should have.
“There were plenty of opportunities to fix the problem before the bearings failed,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said two pumps on each of the lines draw water in from the bay. One more pump can work on either of the two lines.
“There is a lot of redundancy, but as part of the broader view of Pilgrim, we’re issuing a violation for this,” Sheehan said. “It calls into question the rigor of their process for reviewing condition reports.”
There is no fine or other penalty beyond the violation issued.
“We take NRC inspection reports very seriously, and we are committed to continuously strengthening our ability to identify and resolve any existing and potential issues in a timely, effective manner that not only meets the NRC’s expectations but also the high standards to which we hold ourselves,” Entergy said in a statement via spokesman Patrick O’Brien.
After the first inspection in January, federal inspectors issued a report that expressed concern over Pilgrim’s constant failure to follow through.
They cited a water leak in a system that cools the reactor after sudden shutdown. The leak had allowed air bubbles to enter the system, which could significantly impede water flow. Operators discovered the flaw after a blizzard in January 2015, yet they did not enter it into the plant’s action plan until a year later.
That earlier federal report also noted the control room temperatures could climb to 114 degrees Fahrenheit with a loss of normal ventilation and air-conditioning, limiting the amount of time workers could effectively remain in the room and operate controls.
Although four federal inspectors handled the initial two inspections, as many as 20 will now end up doing the plant’s third inspection, Sheehan said. Under the protocol set up after its downgrade, Entergy can notify federal regulators when it is ready for that thorough scrutiny. Sheehan expects that to occur later this year or early next year.