SALEM TWP. — Failure to report potentially debilitating medical conditions of nuclear plant operators — ranging from sleep apnea to cardiac and respiratory problems — in a timely fashion could result in federal enforcement actions against PPL, Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said Monday.
According to the press release and an accompanying report, inspectors found multiple cases in which operators were diagnosed with “medical conditions that involved permanent disabilities and/or illnesses but were not reported within 30 days as required.”
Inspectors also found that, in some cases, PPL submitted license operator renewal applications that certified the medical fitness of the applicants when “in fact, each had medical conditions that did not meet the minimum standards.”
PPL spokesman Joe Scopelliti said the company has taken numerous steps to correct the issues and that “public safety wasn’t compromised” because “there are a group of operators in the control room at all times.”
The problems go back to 2009, according to the report, and PPL did “a detailed evaluation” followed by submission of 10 medical updates in June 2012, four of which involved “permanent changes in medical conditions that had not been previously submitted” within 30 days as required by federal regulations. The NRC “independently identified ” three additional cases among those 10 that also involved permanent changes in medical conditions.
Examples of the medical conditions cited in the report include sleep apnea, coronary artery disease, development of pulmonary problems that required use of an inhaler for asthma and an operator taking medication for stress-related anxiety.
PPL also conducted a “Root Cause Analysis” in 2012 to identify issues and corrective action, “but missed several causes,” the report says, including insufficient training of the medical review officer, flaws in the medical examination process, and exams conducted by a doctor who lacked knowledge of the standards that had to be met.
“As a result, from 2009 until 2013, disqualifying medical conditions continued to be identified, but the conditions were not properly addressed,” the report says. “In a high-stress scenario where respiratory equipment was required … there was an increased potential that these operators may become incapacitated and unable to carry out risk-significant operator actions.”
Scopelliti said the company is in discussions with the NRC regarding the root cause analysis “to make sure we understand what their expectations are,” and that corrective actions have been taken, including training for the company’s medical review officer and training operators on what medical conditions must be reported.