— Pennsylvania: Nuclear plant operators suspended after prioritizing reactor operation ahead of safety

From Beyond Nuclear

As Susan Schwartz of the Press Enterprise reports from Salem Twp., PA, three senior reactor operators at the Susquehanna nuclear power plant (see NRC file photo, left) have been temporaily suspended, pending retraining:

Three senior reactor operators have been temporarily disqualified after they took a safety system offline before shutting down a reactor at the Susquehanna nuclear plant in May, regulators confirm. A nuclear watchdog believes the operators did it in an effort to avoid shutting down the unit, an expensive move for the plant.

Susquehanna has two reactors, both Fukushima Daiichi sibling designs. Susquehanna Units 1 and 2 are General Electric Mark II boiling water reactors.

The article, which reports the incident took place at Unit 2, quotes Dave Lochbaum of UCS:

Watchdog’s take

But David Lochbaum, nuclear safety project director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he suspects the operators disabled the safety system to buy themselves time in the hope of avoiding the shutdown.

If the high pressure coolant injection system is triggered, it can cause the unit to shut down automatically, said Lochbaum. He’s a nuclear engineer who worked 17 years in the industry and also a former reactor technology instructor with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He believes the operators hoped that by delaying the automatic scram, they would give workers time to fix the electrical fault and restore proper cooling and ventilation so the reactor wouldn’t need to be shut down.

But before they took the safety system offline, they didn’t check to make sure nothing was happening that might require it to work.

“They breezed through that step,” he said. “They put the operation of the plant ahead of safety. They took some shortcuts.”

‘Mistakes were made’

That attitude contributed to the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, he said.

Operators there misdiagnosed a problem with the reactor and shut off the safety systems, explained Lochbaum. If they had left them alone, he says the safety systems as designed would have saved the day.

The Susquehanna Steam Electric Station was nowhere near such dire straits, Lochbaum stressed.

“It’s unfortunate mistakes were made, but the system is pretty robust,” he said. “It would have taken several more miscues before this event would have resulted in meltdown or core damage.”

In other words, luckily, operators at Susquehanna Unit 2 in 2016 only made one major mistake, instead of several. The March 28, 1979 series of mistakes made at Three Mile Island Unit 2, however, led to a 50% core meltdown, and the worst nuclear power disaster — thus far, anyway — in U.S. history.


http://www.beyondnuclear.org/home/2016/7/20/susquehanna-operators-suspended-after-prioritizing-reactor-o.html

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Massachusetts: Nuclear expert questions how long Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station operated without emergency generators

From The Enterprise

Nuclear safety expert seeks data about Pilgrim incident

By Christine Legere
The Cape Cod Times
Posted Jul. 1, 2016

PLYMOUTH – A well-known nuclear safety expert is looking for more information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding a report that both emergency diesel generators at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station had been out of commission at the same time for a short period in April while the reactor was operating at full power.

David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, questions how long the plant had been running with no emergency generators, which provide a default power source to safely shut down the reactor, maintain safe shutdown conditions and operate all essential systems if primary and secondary power sources have failed.

The Pilgrim plant can continue to operate for only 24 hours with both generators down, under conditions of its license. If one isn’t back online within that time frame, the reactor must go into cold shutdown, Lochbaum pointed out in his email.

Entergy, Pilgrim’s owner-operator, filed an event report on the April incident with federal regulators on June 9. The report is required because it was “a condition that could have prevented the fulfillment of the safety function of a system needed to shut down the reactor and maintain it in a safe shutdown condition, remove residual heat and mitigate the consequences of an accident,” according to the report.

The document said workers had removed one of the plant’s two diesel generators from service for planned maintenance at 7 p.m. April 11. More than 25 hours after shutting down the generator, a worker noticed water leaking across the floor “at 130 drops a minute” from a pipe coupling on the generator believed to be still operable.

Workers determined the leak was caused by stress corrosion and pronounced the generator inoperable, leaving the plant with no working generators.

Workers fixed the leak and put the diesel generator back in service shortly before noon April 12.

Meanwhile, Mary Lampert, a Duxbury resident and director of Pilgrim Watch, said she believed the situation occurred because of aging equipment and lack of vigilance.

“It’s the same old story: Entergy running the reactor on the cheap – generating not required backup power but trouble for us and themselves,” wrote Lampert in an email.

While Lampert noted Pilgrim workers used to operate on eight-hour shifts, which would have resulted in three checks of the diesel room daily rather than the current two, Patrick O’Brien, speaking for Entergy Corp., said the change to 12-hour shifts occurred in the 1990s, before Entergy bought the plant. O’Brien added that Pilgrim still maintains a full staff of 650 employees.

“The plant’s operations professionals maintain scheduled rounds of all protected equipment when another system is out of service, and the procedures in place ensure the plant maintains safe operations,” O’Brien wrote.

‘‘Proper procedure was followed, and there was no impact on public health or worker safety. At the time, the plant had access to its other back-up power source – the station’s blackout generator – as well as the preferred source, off-site power.”

Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.

http://www.enterprisenews.com/news/20160701/nuclear-safety-expert-seeks-data-about-pilgrim-incident

Posted under Fair Use Rules.

“The NRC Seven” push back against agency collusion with industry, expose dangerous flaw at all plants

From Beyond Nuclear

March 10, 2016 newsletter

The Japanese Parliament, after an independent investigation, concluded that the root cause of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, which began five years ago, was collusion between regulator, industry, and government officials. To our great peril, the U.S. has similar collusion in spades. But in a rare move, several U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staffers have gone public with an unresolved safety dispute.

Dubbed “the NRC Seven” by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists, who praises “their courage and service to the country” as comparable to the Project Mercury astronauts, these staffers have blown the whistle on a risk present at all 99 operating U.S. reactors, as well as five more under construction.

“Open phase” electrical faults — revealed by a Jan. 2012 incident at Exelon’s Byron nuclear plant in Illinois — have gone effectively unaddressed, for more than four long years. Systems vital to maintaining safety and cooling, such as the Emergency Core Cooling System, might not work when called upon. Having exhausted their efforts within the system, “the NRC Seven” have acted in their capacity as private citizens, and filed a “2.206” petition.

But this “emergency enforcement petition” bureaucratic procedure was designed to fail: only one in 200 previous such citizen petitions has resulted in meaningful NRC safety upgrades. Their hope seems to be that media coverage, and resultant public awareness and pressure, will force the moribund agency to do its job, to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Website:

…Hopefully, the NRC Seven will not encounter a harsh environment in response to their efforts to protect millions of Americans from a longstanding nuclear safety problem.

Lochbaum’s blog then summarizes the key milestones leading to the NRC Seven submitting their petition, beginning with the revelation of the problem on January 30, 2012 with an “open phase event” at Exelon’s Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois.

An “open phase event,” in short, involves dysfunction in a nuclear power plant’s electrical systems, structures, and components essential for running vital safety and cooling systems, such as the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS). In certain circumstances, the ECCS is the last line of defense against reactor core meltdown, and catastrophic radioactivity release.

Reuters, Syracuse.com, EcoWatch, and Utility Dive have reported on this story.

http://www.beyondnuclear.org/safety/2016/3/4/ucss-lochbaum-the-nrc-seven-petitioning-the-nrc-over-safety.html