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Nuke-plant inspectors are probing shutdowns

BILL O‚??BOYLE

January 15, 2013

SALEM TWP. ‚?? A three-member special inspection team on Monday began evaluating the circumstances surrounding the Dec. 19 unplanned shutdown of Unit 2 at PPL‚??s Susquehanna nuclear power plant.


During the December shutdown, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said Monday, the reactor was operating at 18 percent power as it was returning to service from an automatic shutdown on Dec. 16.


Among other things, Sheehan said, the inspectors will independently assess operator performance and management oversight as well as the company‚??s review of the event and actions taken as a result.


‚??Corrective actions can take a number of forms, including changes to operator training, revisions to plant procedures and equipment repairs and/or modifications,‚?Ě Sheehan said. ‚??We want to ensure that these actions are effective and will help to prevent a recurrence of problems like those experienced during the Dec. 19 shutdown.‚?Ě


According to a release from the NRC, the inspectors‚?? work will build on earlier reviews done by the two NRC resident inspectors assigned to Susquehanna and by specialist inspectors who responded to the site immediately after the event.


The inspectors reviewed the adequacy of PPL‚??s immediate corrective actions to address equipment and operator performance issues before the plant restart on Dec. 26.


The NRC said a problem involving the feed-water system, normally used to supply water to the reactor vessel for steam production, was the cause of the Dec. 19 shutdown. Specifically, all feed-water flow was temporarily lost when a valve failed to open as expected during plant startup.


‚??While the most recent shutdown did not present any immediate safety concerns for the public or plant workers, it was preceded by unplanned reactor shutdowns on Nov. 9 and Dec. 16,‚?Ě NRC Region I Administrator Bill Dean said. ‚??Collectively, the shutdowns raise questions regarding operator performance, equipment reliability and, in the most recent event, decision-making.‚?Ě


Sheehan said the NRC will issue a report on the results of the Special Inspection within 45 days of its completion.


Joe Scopelliti, PPL spokesman, said PPL is cooperating.


‚??At this point we‚??re just providing information,‚?Ě he said. ‚??We value the insights of our regulator, and we will cooperate fully. Our primary objective is to operate the plant safely.‚?Ě


Scopelliti said PPL has experienced several shutdowns recently and the utility company has taken corrective actions.


In December, a feed-water pump ‚?? one of three pumping water into the nuclear reactor to produce steam ‚?? malfunctioned and caused the water level in the reactor to drop. The shutdown caused control rods to be inserted into the reactor rapidly, which stopped the fission of enriched uranium inside.


At the time, Scopelliti said the water level dropped about 29 inches below where it should have been, but the nuclear material remained below more than 10 feet of water. The plant never needed to activate its emergency plan, he said.