NRC issues final mid-cycle review of U.S. nuclear plants; Arkansas Nuclear One and Two cited again for performance problems

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 158 views 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commissions’ has issued its final mid-cycle assessment letters to the nation’s 99 operating commercial nuclear power plants regarding their performance through the first half of 2016, including a negative review of oversight at Entergy Corp’s Arkansas Nuclear One and Two facilities in Russellville.

The 2016 NRC mid-cycle report, released Sept. 2, does not cover new ground or issues that were not listed in its annual assessment survey in March. Still, all but three of the nation’s 99 commercial operating nuclear plants were in the two highest performance categories in the first half of 2016, including the Entergy’s two-unit nuclear reactors located near Lake Dardanelle in Pope County.

However, Entergy Corp. spokesman Michael Bowling said in addition to recent leadership changes across the nuclear fleet, the New Orleans-based utility giant has partnered with industry peers and high-performers to create a nuclear sustainability plan that will ensure performance gains in the future.

“Although full details are not expected until later in the year, we currently are holding discussions internally and with other nuclear fleets to make certain we build a sustainable operational model for today and for the future. Entergy is dedicated to safety, security and performance excellence at all our plant sites,” Bowling said.

In regard to the NRC’s announcement pertaining to mid-cycle assessments, Bowling said the NRD has a 24-hour, year-round presence at all U.S. nuclear power plants.

“And we are confident in the agency’s abilities to evaluate and regulate performance in real-time,” he said. “NRC regulators have determined this change will not adversely impact the agency’s mission, and they will continue both their rigorous ongoing assessment activities and their annual assessments.”

The mid-cycle assessment period concluded on June 30, with 96 plants in the two highest performance categories. Of the highest-performing reactors, 87 fully met all safety and security performance objectives and were inspected by the NRC using the normal “baseline” inspection program.

Nine reactors needed to resolve one or two items of low safety significance. For this performance level, regulatory oversight includes additional inspection and follow-up of corrective actions. Plants in this level are: Davis-Besse (Ohio); Indian Point 3 (New York); Oyster Creek (New Jersey); Prairie Island 2 (Minnesota); River Bend (Louisiana); Salem (New Jersey); Sequoyah 1 (Tennessee); and Vogtle 1 and 2 (Georgia).

There were no reactors in the third performance category with a degraded level of performance. For this category, regulatory oversight includes more NRC inspections, senior management attention and oversight focused on the causes of the degraded performance.

Three reactors, Arkansas Nuclear One and Two and Entergy’s Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts were in the fourth performance category at the end of the mid-cycle assessment period and require increased oversight. Arkansas Nuclear One and Two were in this category because of two safety findings of substantial significance, NRC officials said. Pilgrim was in this category because of long-standing performance issues of low-to-moderate safety significance.

Since the earlier annual evaluation, Energy has taken a number of steps to improve the performance of its nuclear fleet, including bulking up its executive team, outsourcing security at some of its power plants, undergoing a $120 million refueling at its Indian Point facility, and announcing plans to shutter its FitzPatrick and Pilgrim (nuclear plants on the East Coast by early 2017 and June of 2019, respectively.

At the beginning of 2017, Entergy Corp. named A. Christopher “Chris” Bakken III as its new chief nuclear officer, where he now has executive oversight for operations of the utility giant’s nuclear fleet with locations in Arkansas, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, Louisiana and Mississippi. Bakken reports directly to Entergy Chairman and CEO Leo Denault and is based at Entergy’s nuclear headquarters in Jackson, Miss.

This summer, Bakken strengthened his executive bench with the appointment of Larry Coyle, Indian Point Energy Center site vice president, to the position of chief operating officer. Coyle will work with COO’s Donna Jacobs and John Ventosa to oversee strategic direction, support and oversight of the company’s national fleet of 11 reactors in nine locations.

In other facility moves, Tony Vitale, site vice president for Palisades Power Plant in Michigan, was named site vice president for Indian Point Energy Center in New York, and Charlie Arnone, interim vice president of operations support, was named site vice president for Palisades. Coyle, Vitale and Arnone began their new roles in August.

“We recognize that we face significant challenges at our sites, across the fleet and industry,” Bakken said. “These organizational changes are a part of our nuclear sustainability plan aimed at improving fleet performance.”

The Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan, N.Y., is home to two operating nuclear power plants, unit 2 and unit 3, which generate approximately 2,000 megawatts of electricity for homes, business and public facilities in New York City and Westchester County. Indian Point was taken offline between March 7 and June 17 for its successful refueling outage and comprehensive inspection and upgrade of plant equipment and systems, company officials said.

Following the NRC’s review this month, the nation’s nuclear fleet will no longer have to undergo the mid-cycle assessment each summer. As part of the agency’s Project Aim initiative to become more efficient and effective, the Commission’s three-person regulatory panel has approved the NRC staff’s recommendation to discontinue the mid-cycle assessments after this assessment period.

In place of mid-cycle assessments, the staff will use ongoing routine assessment activities for site-specific oversight, including continuous assessment activities and the continued use of the annual assessments.

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