SALEM TWP. — Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission met Wednesday at a public meeting with officials from the nuclear power plant near Berwick to discuss plant operations last year and address issues that put the plant under additional oversight.
Although PPL operated the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station safely in 2012, according to the NRC, the plant had three unplanned shutdowns.
Mel Gray, branch chief for the NRC’s Division of Reactor Projects, explained that Reactor Unit 1 already was under scrutiny in 2012 because of issues related to a flooding event on July 16, 2010, and because of previous unplanned shutdowns. Additional inspections in 2012 determined PPL adequately addressed those issues and Unit 1 was returned to a normal level of oversight.
However, recent information related to unplanned shutdowns in the fourth quarter of 2012 for Reactor Unit 2 bumped Unit 2 into the category in which Unit 1 had been. The NRC determined two of the shutdowns were of a “complicated” nature, meaning they required additional action from plant operators, Gray said.
A Nov. 9 shutdown resulted from a problem with relatively new electrical equipment; a Dec. 19 shutdown involved a valve that wouldn’t open; and a loose wire apparently led to a Dec. 15 shutdown.
Tim Rausch, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer at the plant, said staff there “completely understand and own the issues” the NRC highlighted in the annual assessment for 2012, and there was “no ambiguity for us in what remains for us to complete.”
The actions underway to improve operations are being carried out by all employees working as a team, not just by management, Rausch said.
Plant manager Jeff Helsel outlined initiatives that management has put in place to improve operations and safety.
Helsel said peer-to-peer coaching has improved, as have plant processes and procedures since officials began benchmarking — comparing them to practices and procedures at a group of other nuclear power plants it began working with about a year ago.
Fifteen of the other 101 nuclear reactors in the United States are currently in the same “Level 2” category as PPL’s Unit 2, also facing more NRC scrutiny; two are at Level 3 and one is at Level 4; none is in the worst category at Level 5, which is called the Unacceptable Performance category. Levels of NRC oversight increase with each higher level.