Operators of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant failed to properly detect a simulated radiological release and also failed to advise state emergency planning officials during an April test of the emergency preparedness process.
Plant staff also failed to detect the lapse until Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspectors pointed it out, according to a May 29 report.
“The finding (by NRC inspectors) is more than minor because it … affected the … objective to ensure that the licensee is capable of implementing adequate measures to protect the health and safety of the public in the event of a radiological emergency,” the report said.
Multiple errors occurred during the full-scale, biennial emergency planning exercise conducted April 16-17 at the Seabrook plant, according to the NRC report.
The test assigned to the plant’s emergency staff was a large-break loss of reactor coolant.
The first error was the plant’s emergency operating facility coordinator failing to recognize the radioactive release the test scenario would cause, according to the NRC. The coordinator needs to notify the New Hampshire and Massachusetts emergency management officials of off-site radioactive releases, as well as making recommendations on the type of protective actions that should occur.
Based on his assumption that no release was taking place, the coordinator requested the lower elevation wind direction from his dose assessment staff; the proper procedure in a no-release situation, according to the NRC. However, the dose assessment staff, which was also unaware of the radioactive release, gave the coordinator the higher elevation wind direction in error.
While this elevation reading was inadvertently correct, since for test purposes only a release was taking place, the coordinator still notified outside emergency management officials that no release had taken place, according to the NRC. The post-exercise critique performed by Seabrook owner NextEra-Seabrook staff failed to identify any of the errors that had occurred.
“The critique did not identify the error in the description of release status contained on the notification form (transmitted to state officials) or the error made by the … coordinator and the dose assessment staff in assessing the meteorological conditions that existed when the initial protective action recommendation was developed,” the NRC report indicated.
NextEra spokesman Alan Griffith said he recognizes the incident represents a failure on the part of the plant’s staff.
“Issues such as these need to be self-identified; that is critically important not just for Seabrook, but all nuclear power plants,” Griffith said. “We did not self-identify. We are fully committed to maintaining high standards at Seabrook Station. We realize that we fell short of those high standards (in this instance).”
However, Griffith said, the reason emergency preparedness drills are held is to uncover problems such as the ones noted in the NRC report. He stressed the plant has already undertaken a corrective action program.
“We are confident in our ability to protect the public health and safety, (but) this is clearly is an area for us to improve,” Griffith said. “The best thing we can do is learn from this.”
Griffith said NextEra’s management is deciding whether to contest the NRC’s finding of a “white” violation against the company. White indicates the second lowest level of concern on the part of NRC officials.