WI Nuke Faces More Fed Oversight

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 @ 12:08 PM gHale

There will be an increase in oversight of NextEra Energy Resources’ two-unit Point Beach nuclear plant in Wisconsin after a white inspection finding of “low to moderate safety significance” and an associated violation for shortfalls in the plant’s procedure for addressing external flooding, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials said.

NRC is moving Point Beach-1 to column 3 from column 2 of the agency’s action matrix for reactor oversight, while Point Beach-2 has been moved to column 2 from column 1, both effective in the first quarter of 2013, the NRC said in a letter to company.

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Reactors receive progressively greater oversight from NRC as they move to higher-numbered columns. Those in column 1 are subject to the least amount of NRC oversight, while those in column 5 must shut down until the plant addresses the problems.

NRC said in a June 18 letter to NextEra that inspectors found Point Beach’s procedure for maintaining “external flooding wave run-up protection design features” left safety-related equipment in the turbine building or pumphouse unprotected.

Point Beach’s procedure did not ensure they could install Jersey barriers without gaps in or between them to prevent water intrusion, did not require barriers be in front of doors to protect equipment and did not require the barriers provide at least nine feet of protection to the plant, NRC said.

“To be clear, the postulated flooding issue does not present a current risk to the health or safety of our workers or the public,” said Point Beach spokeswoman Sara Cassidy.

Cassidy added that “all [the] work has been completed” to address the issues in NRC’s June 18 letter, including “the modification of existing concrete barriers, as well as the installation of additional barriers and pre-staging of additional sandbags for use if ever needed.”

The agency initially issued the plant an apparent violation and preliminary yellow finding, indicating “substantial safety significance.” A yellow finding is the second-highest level of safety significance for inspection findings in the color-coded, four-category scale of the agency’s reactor oversight process.

NextEra participated in a regulatory conference July 22 to discuss NRC’s preliminary finding. The company acknowledged there was a performance deficiency, but argued regulators should reduce the safety significance of the inspection finding because an engineering analysis the company performed using a state-of the-art computer model found that “it was extremely unlikely for water to accumulate in the turbine building.”

NextEra said this warranted a green finding of “very low safety significance” because of the limited equipment that would be affected by a flood.

NRC said it considered the company’s analysis as an alternate model to the agency’s wave run-up models, and upon further review concluded the finding was white, or the second-lowest level of safety significance for inspection findings.

NRC will conduct a supplemental inspection to ensure the company understands the root cause of the finding and the plant implemented corrective actions to prevent the problem from occurring again, the letter said.

“While the flooding issue concerns an extreme scenario that is highly unlikely, as with all evaluations by the NRC, we take this situation very seriously,” Cassidy said. “As part of our review, we have confirmed that we have revised the necessary procedures and taken appropriate corrective actions, and the NRC confirms our assessment.”

NextEra has 30 days to appeal NRC’s decision. Cassidy said the company is still evaluating the NRC’s written comments and will assess its options under the established procedure.

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