Snubbers Violation Catches NRC Ire

Monday, January 28, 2013 @ 08:01 PM gHale


An employee at the Beaver Valley, PA, Nuclear Power Station lost his job for failing to report a missed snubber test, and now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is getting involved.

Snubbers, which are shock absorbers to protect large steam pipes in nuclear plants during earthquakes or severe accidents, are not a high safety risk equipment, but plants must conduct regular inspections.

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Because an unidentified Beaver Valley plant operator failed to complete one of the required snubber inspections and then did not report his error until it was caught a year later by an audit at the Shippingport facility, owner FirstEnergy Corp. faced a citation for a violation by NRC.

According to the NRC complaint, the plant operator inadvertently left one snubber off a scheduled test during a March 2011 outage and inspection. He noticed the error in April 2011, but did not inform management, which did not learn of the incident until a routine audit in January 2012, the complaint said.

The plant got a Level IV violation notice, which he said is of very low safety significance, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

FirstEnergy’s violation was listed as low level because it took immediate action, including firing the plant operator, when they discovered the error, he said. The NRC also determined the violation did not involve a lack of management oversight and was “an isolated action by the individual,” Sheehan said.

FirstEnergy will have 30 days to appeal the violation. If it stands, the plant will be subject to further inspections.

Beaver Valley has 210 snubbers on each unit, and they test 10 percent of these snubbers during each outage, said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young.

Young said the issue did not pose a threat to safety.

“Our safety systems each have multiple snubbers to ensure that an issue with an individual snubber would not cause the system to become unsafe,” she said. “The inspection program is designed to identify degradation and address issues before the snubber performance is challenged; however, it is rare that we find a snubber that fails the inspection.”

Sheehan also said FirstEnergy has already taken action to correct the issue -– they have since inspected the unchecked snubber, and it was in satisfactory condition.

Young said they have assigned a new engineer to oversee the snubber maintenance and testing program. FirstEnergy also did an assessment to ensure the appropriate snubbers will undergo inspection during upcoming outages.

“This incident does not meet our standards, and when discovered, prompt and aggressive actions were taken to address and correct the situation,” Young said.



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