After finding 10 safety issues at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, MA, federal regulators said the state’s only nuclear plant can stay open, but it will remain under intense scrutiny.
Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told more than 200 people at a public meeting Tuesday that despite the safety issues, they are confident plant staff can handle an emergency and the plant can end up refueling as scheduled this year.
The meeting was held after an internal NRC memo released that said Pilgrim staff remained “overwhelmed.”
Many of the people who attended the meeting want the plant, one of the worst performing nuclear power stations in the country, shut down early.
Entergy Corp., which owns the plant, said it will close the station for good in 2019.
In a long line of incidents at the facility, Entergy submitted a report to the NRC about failures in an emergency coolant system found in November. That wasn’t the only problem the plant experienced in its fourth quarter. There was also a December shutdown prompted by leaky valves and nine violations found during a December security check.
Pilgrim falls into a category of one of the worst performers in the country.
The NRC’s performance matrix, which rates plants based on a set of performance standards, has placed 91 of the country’s 99 nuclear reactors in Category I, which indicates acceptable performance.
Only nine fall below Category I. Entergy Corp. owns four of those nine, including all three in Column 4, one step above an ordered shutdown. Pilgrim and Arkansas units I and 2 are in the bottom category.
The Entergy report posted Wednesday outlines the cause of — and fixes – for the high pressure coolant injection system used to cool the nuclear reactor when it suddenly shuts down and pressure levels are high.
Entergy declared the system inoperable after the vibration level of the main pump exceeded federal regulations.
Licensees must shut down their reactors if they can’t get the system up and running within 14 days. Pilgrim operators fixed the problem in four days.
The fix, according to Entergy’s report, was to install a steel plate on the coolant system pump, which helped lower the vibration.
The mid-December incident required a shutdown of the Pilgrim reactor while workers addressed leaks in main steam isolation valves, which prevent radioactivity from leaking into the environment during a nuclear incident.
In addition, investigators found nine violations at Pilgrim during a routine security inspection in December. Details of those infractions, characterized as of minor safety significance by the NRC, were scarce because they relate to plant security.
Of more immediate concern to the public is the email mistakenly sent to a Pilgrim watchdog in early December by an NRC special inspection leader. Donald Jackson, the leader of a 20-member inspection team at Pilgrim to scrutinize equipment, procedures and performance, characterized plant staff as “overwhelmed.” He cited staff failure to follow established industry procedures, failing equipment that’s not properly fixed, lack of required expertise, and failure of some staff to understand their roles and responsibilities.