PPL’s Susquehanna nuclear plant is now on federal notice for a string of recent safety violations, regulators said.
A “notice of violation” and two, less serious notices of “non-cited violations” came out from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). All involved breaches of radiation protection requirements by contract workers at the Luzerne County, PA, facility.
“Everyone, including contractors, goes through substantial training. They know what the rules are,” said PPL Susquehanna community relations manager Joseph J. Scopelliti. “Everyone is expected to follow those procedures, no exception.”
The notice of violation resulted from an NRC investigation that concluded a contract roofer “willfully and with careless disregard” failed to contact the plant’s Health Physics Department after alarming a radiation detection monitor in October 2011, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
An NRC inspector assigned to Susquehanna identified the violation. Sheehan described the subsequent notice as “more than a warning.”
But since the public was not in danger, he added, “we don’t hit [PPL] with a fine or increased oversight unless we see a repeat of this during future inspections.”
The first of the two non-cited violations actually involved back-to-back incidents in April 2011. First, a contract insulator who had triggered an alarm on a contamination monitor deliberately leaned his head out of the monitor to avoid a second alarm. Then, a contract electrician intentionally used a nonfunctioning monitor.
Scopelliti said the radiation monitors are “extremely sensitive.” He recalled a time when naturally occurring radon on his clothing tripped an alarm. Residual radioactivity from certain medical procedures can also be a trigger, he said.
The second non-cited violation was for a contract carpenter who, on March 30, 2012, moved a “high-radiation area” posting to make room for a scaffold.
Both of the non-cited violations ended up reported by PPL. None of the incidents resulted in the spread of radioactive contamination.
Scopelliti said the plant’s use of contract workers spikes for upkeep and repair work during planned outages. Up to 2,000 such workers may have access to the grounds, he said.
“All of those people go through initial training,” he said. “They are tested, and they have to pass the test to get into the plant.”
Asked if PPL would change any of its policies or procedures, Scopelliti responded: “I’m sure we’ll emphasize [safety] more, but our training clearly states what the rules are.”
The NRC sent PPL a letter about the Susquehanna nuclear power plant’s safety violations just days after PPL restarted one of two reactor units at the plant.
On Sept. 16, radioactive water was leaking in Unit 2. The leak, inside a room in the reactor building, prompted an “unusual event” declaration. An unusual event is the first of the four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for nuclear power plants.
The problem had no effect on public safety and required no public action, according to PPL, the Allentown company that partly owns and operates the plant.
Unit 2 was not operating when workers found the leak. Officials had shut it down a day earlier for an unplanned inspection of the unit’s turbine blades after a sensor detected an abnormality.
Since then, workers cleaned up the radioactive water and the turbines repaired, according to PPL.
PPL Susquehanna LLC and Allegheny Electric Cooperative Inc. jointly own the Susquehanna plant, about seven miles north of Berwick. PPL Susquehanna operates the plant.