NRC details reasons for Pilgrim’s poor performance rating
PLYMOUTH – Last Thursday night, in a windowless basement conference room of the Radisson Hotel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Pilgrim-owner Entergy and a variety of anti-nuclear and environmental groups continued their debate on the safety of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant.
The specific motivation for this gathering was the NRC’s annual performance review of the plant’s operation.
Last year, 2013, was from any perspective a bad year for the plant. Several sudden shut downs of the reactor, including two federal regulators deemed “scrams with complications” and two other instances when the plant experienced an unplanned scram, resulted in the NRC placing the plant in the “Degraded Cornerstone” category of the NRC’s action matrix.
There were also more than a dozen lesser events at the plant in 2013, when non-critical equipment failed to work properly.
Of all of the commercial nuclear plants operating in the U.S., NRC District 1 Regional Administrator Bill Dean noted, 84 are in the “licensee response” category. That’s good.
Below that, facing additional scrutiny by the NRC, 10 plants are in the NRC’s doghouse, a category known as “regulatory response.”
And just eight plants fall into the “degraded cornerstone” category or worse – including Pilgrim.
It is often difficult to tell if and to what degree the NRC is unhappy with a plant operator. The agency is known for using obscure terms like “action matrix,” “degraded cornerstone,” “performance indicators” and color-coded ratings where white is bad and green is good.
So, Pilgrim Senior Resident Inspector Stephen “Max” Schneider, an NRC employee, made an attempt to cut through the jargon.
“These are not just numbers,” Schneider said, “these are indicators of the potential for what may be underlying issues.”
That may be as close as the NRC has ever come to calling Pilgrim dangerous. Remarkably, Thursday night’s meeting may have been the closest Entergy has ever come to agreeing.
When it was the company’s turn to explain its 2013 performance, plant officials didn’t argue with anything the NRC said. Instead, they offered a multifaceted plan for a “return to excellence.”
The three pillars of their plan, Pilgrim Site Vice President John Dent said, are leadership excellence, equipment performance excellence and excellence in performance improvement.
The clear inference is that in 2013 Entergy acknowledges there was no such level of excellence at Pilgrim – the perhaps the closest Entergy and its critics have come to agreement for quite some time.
But when it was their turn to comment, the plant’s critics did not go easy, on Pilgrim or the NRC. Keep reading (Wicked Local)