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A week-long shut-down of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven, MI, this September was of “substantial safety significance,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said.

The plant was offline because of an electrical outage at the plant. The outage occurred because a worker didn’t follow proper procedures when he was doing routine maintenance, the NRC investigation showed.

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The procedures at the plant were improper anyway, said NRC spokeswoman Victoria Midlyng, adding managers at the plant had given that worker the green light to do things differently.

“Nobody took the time to really focus on the safety significance of this activity,” Midlyng said, “Nobody stopped in their tracks and said ‘hey, what are we doing here? We need to rethink this.'”

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The findings are preliminary so the company will get a chance to respond or dispute the investigation before the NRC finalizes it.

A spokesman for Entergy, the company that owns and operates the plant said they haven’t decided on the response to NRC yet.

He did issue this written statement: “Entergy Palisades has cooperated fully with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors during their site inspections and shared information gathered during its own internal investigations.

“An Entergy Corporate Event Response Team (CERT) was sent to Palisades following the Sept. 25 event to conduct its own independent investigation and evaluation.
“Information gathered during that corporate investigation was also shared with the agency.

“Entergy Palisades has taken aggressive action internal to the organization to 1) refocus all site employees on standards and expectations, 2) strictly adhere to procedures and work instructions, and 3) use the appropriate human performance tools applicable for the task or activity.”

There is no reason for people to be worried about their safety, Midlyng said.

“There are issues that the plant is going to have to address,” she said. “But it is operating safely and if the NRC didn’t have confidence the plant was operating safely we would shut it down.”

If the initial findings end up finalized, Palisades would be one of only three nuclear plants in the country with a “yellow” finding of “substantial safety significance”. The N.R.C. rates safety concerns in four categories; green, white, yellow and red, with red being the most serious.

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