Leaked NRC Email Suggests Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Staff “Overwhelmed”

An email written by the team leader of an ongoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection being conducted at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant suggested that the facility’s staff were “overwhelmed by just trying to run the station.”

The wide-ranging NRC inspection began on Nov. 28. It is the third and largest inspection conducted as part of the agency’s heightened scrutiny of the Pilgrim plant, which was triggered by previous performance deficiencies.

The email correspondence, presumably intended for NRC eyes only but mistakenly sent to a member of the anti-nuclear citizens group Cape Downwinders [Correction made from “Cape Downwinders Cooperative” to “Cape Downwinders” on 12/8/2016], pointed to numerous examples of poor or inadequate performance throughout the Pilgrim organization.

Poor Performance a Big Concern

The safety culture at the station was questioned multiple times in the email. The inspection group was said to have interviewed more than 130 people and was “hearing that people are happy and working to improve the site,” with the exception apparently being the security force, but actual safety performance was observed to be “somewhat disjointed.”

The security force may have been singled out in the email because no one from the department showed up for a scheduled safety culture focus group meeting; the security supervisor apparently forgot about the assembly.

Evidence seemed to suggest that plant workers were doing their jobs differently in the presence of inspectors too. Jackson wrote that while one inspector was observing a maintenance activity, “the worker stated that this test would take him much longer since the NRC was watching. In fact, the channel that we watched took 2.5 hours to complete, and the other 3 Channels took 2 hours total to complete when we were not observing.”

Another particularly frustrated worker was said to have written a request for inspection activities to be spread out over the three-week window because the inspection “was significantly impacting getting her work done.”

Although Jackson noted that the staff “seems to say the right things, and they are genuinely energized about improving,” their actual performance was less encouraging. The result, according to Jackson, was “procedural non compliances, poor maintenance, poor engineering practices, and equipment reliability problems.”

“It appears that many staff across the site may not have the standards to know what ‘good’ actually is,” Jackson wrote.

Early Reflections Are Not Final

POWER contacted the NRC’s Office of Public Affairs Region I Field Office for comment. In a statement, the NRC said:

“An e-mail inadvertently sent to a member of the public on Tuesday morning contains preliminary—and we would emphasize preliminary—observations from the team inspection we currently have under way at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant. We are still in the early stages of our Phase ‘C’ inspection at Pilgrim and to what extent, if any, these observations factor into our final determinations on Entergy’s progress in improving the plant’s performance would be difficult, if not impossible, to predict at this point.

“It’s important to point out that our inspectors continuously evaluate plant safety as issues are identified and Pilgrim remains safe based on what we have seen thus far.

“As we’ve stated previously, the team will have 45 days after the inspection formally ends to document any findings. In the meantime, information on the progress of our review is considered ‘pre-decisional’ and therefore we will not have any further comment at this time regarding it.”

A copy of Jackson’s email was posted by the Cape Cod Times and is viewable on the Scribd website and embedded below.

Email from Nuclear Regulatory Commission leader by Cape Cod Times on Scribd

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)