A team of 20 Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors descended on Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station Monday morning to see if the plant has managed to correct problems that resulted in being classified as one of the worst performing nuclear power plants in the country.
During a conference call with the press, officials from the NRC outlined the process they will go through to see if Pilgrim Station has fixed, or has plans to fix, the issues that have plagued it in recent years.
The team includes seven resident inspectors from other nuclear power plants in the US, according to Don Jackson, the NRC official who is at Pilgrim overseeing the inspection. This is the largest of three inspections that have taken place at Pilgrim since it was put into the Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone Column, or Column 4, of the NRC’s Action Matrix in September 2015. This status ranks Pilgrim at the bottom of the performance list among the nation’s commercial nuclear reactors
Besides reviewing documents, inspecting equipment and watching plant staff work, inspectors will also focus on what Jackson called safety culture at the plant. He described that as the willingness of plant employees to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisals. While there are no particular issues about Pilgrim regarding safety, the fact the power plant requires this level of inspection means that it needs to be addressed, he added. Entergy was required to hire an outside firm to review its safety culture as part of the inspection process, Jackson said.
After the inspection is done, the NRC may take action over the next two years to ensure Entergy makes the required improvements, according to Ray Lorson, the NRC’s Director of Region 1 Safety. “We’ll identify a series of actions for the licensee to maintain improvement,” said Lorson, “We’ll be asking very tough questions.” Pilgrim Station is set to close in May 2019. It is unlikely it will be upgraded from its current status in that time, he added.
The plant’s closing will have no effect on how it is inspected or what actions it might be required to take, Lorson said. But, he added, the NRC will make sure Entergy is not putting off needed repairs because it’s shutting down.
An inspection like this one doesn’t happen very often, Lorson said, noting there have been 12 in the past 15 years. The last one happened a year and a half ago at Arkansas 1, a power plant that also sits in column 4 of the NRC matrix. Lorson said.
This is the final phase of a three-part process that began when Pilgrim Station was downgraded. This inspection was scheduled after Entergy officials notified the NRC they were ready for it in September.
The inspection will take a total of three weeks. NRC inspectors will be here for the next two weeks then return for an additional week in January. The schedule was broken up due to the holiday season. After the inspection is complete, the NRC will issue a report in 45 days, then hold a public meeting about its findings sometime in late winter or early spring, according to Lorson.
While NRC inspectors were inside getting to work, protesters gathered outside calling for the Pilgrim’s immediate shutdown. “The NRC has stated their goal is to ‘arrest declining performance,’ however, that does not appear to be happening,” Diane Turco, director of Cape Downwinder said in a statement. Turco stated that increased oversight since 2014 has not meant improved safety at Pilgrim.
“As a member of the public it seems to be useless for whatever we do, the NRC doesn’t uphold it mandate for public safety. They don’t hear us, stated Harwich resident Elaine Dickinson.