Palisades executives are taking the blame for two maintenance failures that forced them to shut down their Nuclear reactor near Covert last year. They (somewhat) admitted they have let their safety culture degrade.
“We must really raise our standards and hold people accountable,” said David Hamilton, director of nuclear safety at Palisades. “We are changing the way we do business.”
The changes required, are much more difficult than first meets the eye, and are entangled deeply within the entire company.
Entergy is the second-largest nuclear generator in the United States, only second to Exelon Corporation. The company operates a total of 10 nuclear stations, but public perception of the entrenched company could be at an all-time-low.
Entergy Nuclear Stations
- New York – Indian Point Energy Center and FitzPatrick
- Massachusetts – Pilgrim
- Vermont – Vermont Yankee
- Michigan – Palisades Nuclear Station
- Arkansas – Arkansas Nuclear One
- Louisiana – River Bend and Waterford
- Mississippi – Grand Gulf
- Nebraska – support services for the Cooper Nuclear Station through 2014
Indian Point Shut Down to Slightly Radioactive Water Leak from Pump
The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is shut down, to repair a malfunctioning cooling pump, and officials don’t know when a restart will occur. Entergy says the pump helps cool the Indian Point 2 reactor and normally leaks about 2 gallons a minute.
Spokesman Jerry Nappi says the leak had been increasing and on Monday night it reached a point (over 5 gallons per minute) at which operators decided to shut down for repair.
The plant is under increasing pressure from all sides, even Governor Andrewe Cuomo has publically said that the plant should be closed completely because it’s a safety risk.
Vermont Yankee Lawsuits Keep Entergy Busy
River Bend Operators Internet Habits Earn $140,000 Fine
Entergy Operators in Louisiana were found to have been browsing the internet, rather than focusing attention on the safe operation of the reactors, and further took special measures to hide their internet use from supervisors.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it plans to penalize the River Bend Station just north of Baton Rouge, with a $140,000 fine over Internet-viewing habits of workers at the company’s Louisiana nuclear-power plant that violated federal rules.
The NRC said in early 2010, nine control-room operators at Entergy’s River Bend power plant, “deliberately violated” regulations by accessing the Internet and viewing news, sports and other sites when they were supposed to be paying attention to nuclear-plant operations and “focused on their work.”
“Control-room operators are directly responsible for monitoring the reactor and other important plant systems to ensure that it is operated safely,” the NRC said.
Three of the nine control-room operators are being issued severity level three violations and six others are receiving severity level four violations, the agency said.
NRC officials said that Entergy did not promptly address the ‘larger safety culture issue’, but Entergy officials did not feel it was such a big deal, and disagreed with the NRC about whether the operators were distracted while they surfed the internet.
Mike Bowling, an Entergy spokesman, said “Based on our investigation, the operators remained attentive,” he said. “We approached it as a violation of procedure.”
Entergy officials said the operators did not face fines or other penalties from regulators and that any disciplinary action against them would be conducted by Entergy. Entergy said disciplinary action was taken, but it declined to say what action had been taken against the operators.
What’s next for Palisades?
Officials from Entergy Corporation, the company that operates the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven, appeared in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday. .
The NRC says the event in September was of “substantial safety significance”. An electrical circuit at the plant broke when a worker was doing routine maintenance. The worker did not follow procedures for doing the work.
NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said in November, the worker had actually gotten permission from his managers not to follow procedures.
Officials also discussed a coupling failure in August. An inspection found that the plant didn’t follow industry experience in choosing the part.
At the hearings, Palisades officials debated with NRC officials for at least an hour how the NRC determined the risk of the incidents. Entergy officials don’t agree the incident was as much of a risk as the NRC does. The company’s model that determines risk results is a lower risk than the NRC.
Although Entergy officials did admit that they had focused more on the quantity, rather than the quality, of safety checks.
Cynthia Pederson, is the acting regional administrator for NRC’s region 3, and was unable to contain her frustration with Entergy and the lack of effort put forward to this point.
“Quite frankly we find your performance very troubling. And certainly it has declined and you’ve admitted that yourself today,” Pederson said. “Particularly troublesome is the lack of standards, or the failure to meet standards…a decline in safety standard.”
“You commented that Palisades has not been operating to Entergy standards,” Pederson continued, “Entergy has run this plant for over 4 years. We’re getting tired of that old excuse. We need to see performance change.”
The NRC has a long list of concerns related to the Palisades Nuclear Station stemming from repeated incidents frequently involving poor supervision and quality of work.
The NRC just issued a violation notice to Entergy for a separate incident that happened in May. A water pump at the plant failed — and regulators concluded that’s because one of the components was lubricated when it shouldn’t have been.
The safety culture has repeatedly been exposed as less than adequate, and some even question the safety structure as a whole after multiple events rooted in personnel failures, and a questionable (at best) respect for the role of a nuclear operator.
Hamilton and other company officials who spoke said the incident was “avoidable” and “intolerable” and mostly caused by human error. Entergy Palisades Site Vice President Tony Vitale said no one was fired at the plant for the incident but that “disciplinary actions were taken appropriately.”
“We’ve lost the trust of our neighbors. We’ve lost the trust of our corporation and we’re going to fix that,” said David Hamilton, general manager of plant operations.