Nuke Worker Tried to Hide Error: Feds

Monday, May 22, 2017 @ 04:05 PM gHale

Federal officials reported a worker “deliberately” attempted to fix an error he had made while conducting tests two years ago at the Hope Creek generating station in NJ.

A worker “deliberately” attempted to fix an error he had made while conducting tests at a New Jersey nuclear reactor causing the plant to shut down 2 years ago, federal officials found.

The now-former employee’s action prompted the Hope Creek generating station in Lower Alloways Creek Township, NJ, to automatically shut down Sept. 28, 2015. The worker later lied about what he did, said officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

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The unidentified PSEG Nuclear technician “made an error while performing a surveillance test and deliberately attempted to correct the error rather than comply with the procedural guidance to stop and inform management,” the NRC said in a letter outlining its findings in the case.

“We rely on plant employees to take the appropriate actions when on the job and this does not appear to have happened in this case,” said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC which oversees the operation of the nation’s nuclear plants.

“It is rare for the actions of a plant employee to cause a reactor (shutdown),” Sheehan said. “It is also out of the ordinary for a worker to try to cover up his or her actions, so we take that seriously.”

Hope Creek is one of three nuclear reactors operated by PSEG Nuclear at its Artificial Island generating station in Lower Alloways Creek Township.

“Based on this event, the individual involved is no longer employed here,” said PSEG Nuclear Spokesman Joe Delmar. “The actions and decision of this individual do not represent the quality work our 1,600 employees do each day to provide safe, clean power to New Jersey and the region.”

The employee was conducting routine testing on one of the plant’s safety systems when the incident unfolded.

He entered test data into a wrong area and then, instead of letting a supervisor know of his mistake, tried to go back and fix what he had done. The plant’s safety systems sensed “something was out of the ordinary,” Sheehan said, and the water recirculation pumps turned off which in turn triggered the reactor to shut down. The plant remained shut down for four days.

When it conducted its own investigation of the unplanned shutdown, PSEG Nuclear discovered it was human error, not mechanical failure that caused the plant to trip off line, officials said.

“The individual made an error while performing a surveillance test and rather than immediately stopping and informing the job supervisory, attempted to correct the error,” Delmar said.

The worker later “provided testimony that contradicted the cause of the (shutdown),” Delmar said.

Sheehan said the utility will not be fined in the case, citing the utility’s investigation that uncovered what the technician did and the company’s prompt reporting of the findings to the federal agency. Sheehan said, however, said the NRC will be following up closely to be sure PSEG Nuclear puts procedures in place to prevent this from happening again.

The ex-worker won’t be subjected to any penalties from the NRC and won’t be barred from working at another nuclear plant, Sheehan said.

PSEG said proceedings started to terminate the worker, but he resigned.

PSEG, as the operator of Hope Creek, takes responsibility for the actions of the worker and did not contest the NRC’s finding, Delmar said. The company could have challenged the NRC’s findings, but didn’t.

Hope Creek, along with the other two reactors there — Salem 1 and Salem 2 –comprise the second-largest nuclear complex in the United States.

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