In June of this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified Pennsylvania Power and Light of violations at the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, which they own and operate.
The violations were in relation to eight licensed reactor operators, who were found to not meet minimum health requirements due to permanent disabilities or illnesses, yet were still allowed to perform licensed duties by the licensee between August 2007 and June 2012.
According to an inspection report filed by the NRC, federal regulators found eight instances in which PPL did not notify the NRC within 30 days of learning of changes in licensed operator medical conditions that involved permanent disabilities/illnesses.
The NRC also found that PPL did not submit complete or accurate information about those workers, despite having submitted three licensed operator renewal applications which certified the medical fitness of the applications and stated that no restricting license conditions were necessary.
Every licensed operator and senior operator is required to have a medical examination every two years to ensure that the worker meets the NRC’s requirements, the NRC however did not identify why these operators slipped through the cracks.
The NRC concluded that both violations occurred as a result of PPL’s failure to oversee the licensed operator medical examination process, train staff on the applicable NRC requirements; and implement an effective licensed operator medical program that maintained awareness of NRC and industry guidance. The NRC did not levy a $70,000 penalty against the Susquehanna station in relation to the event.
Though the primary responsibility for assuring qualified personnel are on duty rests with the licensee, the blame may not be all on PPL – as the NRC assigns at least two resident inspectors to each commercial nuclear power plant, who are capable of staying at each plant for up to 7 years, and who are suppose to act as the agency’s eyes and ears at licensee facilities.
According to the NRC, resident inspectors are supposed to monitor daily operations, conduct inspections, oversee work projects, and interact with workers and the public. In the last 10 years, 6 resident inspectors have been assigned to the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station.
This week, the NRC assigned two new inspectors to the Susquehanna nuclear power station, as of October 29th. One of the newly assigned inspectors was formerly a resident inspector at the Susquehanna station, previously appointed in September of 2010.
It is unclear at this time why the assigned resident inspectors were unable to identify the issues with the eight senior reactor operators at an earlier date.
Source: NRC Inspection Report