Three U.S. Nuclear Plants Get Poor Marks from NRC

Officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plan to hold a public hearing May 31 on the safety record of the Arkansas Nuclear One power plant in Arkansas, whose two units are among three cited by the agency for poor performance and other problems in its annual assessment of the nation’s nuclear fleet.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts, which has been dogged by equipment and other problems over the past several months and has been offline most of this year, also is listed as a Category 4 plant by the NRC. Entergy already has said it will close Pilgrim by mid-year 2019.

The NRC ranks nuclear facilities in five categories, with Category 1 designating a safe-performing plant, down to Category 5, which requires a plant to close until NRC inspectors sign off on corrective actions. Victor Dricks, senior public affairs officer with the NRC, told POWER the agency has never placed a unit in Category 5. The agency in its annual assessment of the nation’s 99 commercial nuclear units earlier this year said only the two Arkansas units, and Pilgrim, placed outside the NRC’s top two high-performance categories.

The Arkansas meeting is one of a number of upcoming public sessions scheduled by the NRC at plants across the country to discuss the group’s safety reports. The agency this week said it would continue with additional oversight of TVA’s Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, after an undisclosed security violation at the plant last fall. The NRC on May 30 said it would discuss the agency’s findings concerning safety at the plant, which it considers a Category 2 facility, in a public hearing at the plant’s training center on June 6.

The NRC in its annual review said 83 of the 96 highest-performing U.S. reactors met all safety and security performance objectives. The 13 reactors, cited for one or two items of low safety significance and requiring additional inspections and regulatory oversight, include Units 1 and 2 at Sequoyah; Browns Ferry 1, 2, and 3 (Alabama); Catawba 2 (South Carolina); Clinton (Illinois); Columbia (Washington state); Diablo Canyon 2 (California); Fermi 2 (Michigan); Grand Gulf (Mississippi); Perry (Ohio); and Wolf Creek (Kansas).

The NRC said Diablo Canyon 2 and Fermi 2 “have resolved their findings since the reporting period ended and have transitioned to the highest performing level.”

Arkansas Nuclear One has been subject to increased NRC oversight since March 2015, after at least two safety findings the agency considered significant. The plant was flagged by the NRC in 2015 for what the agency called degraded flood protection. The agency also cited the plant for a 2013 incident involving the handling of heavy equipment at the facility. Both were considered “yellow” findings; the NRC Reactor Oversight Process uses color-coded inspection findings and indicators to measure plant performance. The colors start at green for safe performance, then move to white, yellow, and red, with the latter denoting a highly significant safety issue.

The NRC has said it will discuss safety issues at nuclear plants during its public hearings, but it declines to talk about security problems in order to protect against terrorist or other physical attacks. The agency monitors the performance of plants it cites with safety or security violations for at least 12 months after corrective actions are taken.

Information on the NRC’s oversight of commercial nuclear power plants is available through the NRC’s webpage on the Reactor Oversight Process. The NRC routinely updates information on each plant’s current performance and posts the latest information to the action matrix summary as it becomes available. Assessment letters are posted here; click on “2017q4” for each plant.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)