Officials at Arkansas Nuclear One power plant in Russellville are preparing to brief the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the utility's preparations to undergo a major inspection at the plant set for the beginning of next year.
Representatives from the two entities are to meet Thursday evening in Russellville, in a meeting that is open to the public.
Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the NRC, said the increased oversight stems from the plant being placed in Column IV, this June. Column IV is also called the “Multiple/Degraded Cornerstone Column,” according to the NRC website. A Column IV rating requires frequent inspections at a plant. Placement in Column V, the “Unacceptable Performance Column” requires a plant be shut down.
“We have full confidence in the ability of Entergy to operate the plant safely. That really isn't an issue,” he said. “What is at issue is some of the performance deficiencies or problems that have affected past operations.”
The poor rating for the plant came after a March 2013 accident when a 500-ton generator stator fell and killed a worker, injured others and caused extensive flooding at the plant. (The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit which advocates for increased safety at nuclear plants, compiled a narrative of the event, available here.)
Dricks says the equipment drop at the time of the accident damaged fire-fighting equipment, releasing water which “seeped into areas where it shouldn't have been able to seep into.” The NRC then inspected flood protection features at the plant and found “problems.”
Those problems Dricks identified as “floor seals, seals that are designed to make electrical cable conduits water-proof, and some hatches where water was able to enter areas where it shouldn't have been.” Deficiencies with flood protection at the plant prompted the NRC to issue “yellow findings” in January 2015, according to an agency news release. Similarly, yellow findings were issued in June 2014, in response to the accident. The NRC website describes the “yellow” designations as indicating “cornerstone objectives are being met but with a moderate reduction of the safety margin.”
“So we have increased the level of oversight and inspection and Entergy has correspondingly increased their level of resources that are being devoted to the plant,” Dricks said.
Dricks said about two dozen NRC inspectors will put in about 3,000 man hours of work over “many weeks” for the comprehensive inspection next year. Sarah Millard, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear One plant, said Entergy staff and others have already conducted about 25,000 hours of assessments.
“We began a process of assessing everything at the station. Not only the findings that placed us in Column IV, but everthing that has to do with our organizational health,” she said.
In an emailed response to an inquiry about Entergy's preparations for the comprehensive inspection, Millard said, the assessments “have led to the development of a collective evaluation summarizing the known site issues.”
“Each of these issues is currently going through a rigorous cause analysis process to identify root and contributing causes and corrective actions,”she said. “The resulting corrective actions will be compiled into a comprehensive recovery plan by October 2015,” she said.
Once the NRC is satisfied with Entergy's plans, Millard says the agency will issue a "corrective action letter" that will specify all legally required actions the utility must complete to move the plant out of Column IV.
The two units at the Russellville plant share a place in Column IV with the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Plymouth plant, like Arkansas Nuclear One, is run by Entergy Operations, Inc. Dricks says “80 to 85 percent” of nuclear plants across the country are in Coumn I, requiring only a baseline level of inspections. Millard says Entergy Operations, Inc. runs 10 units at 8 locations across the United States. Of those, 3 are in Column II, the “Regulatory Response Column,” which also requires a heightened level of inspections.
Dricks said the public will be allowed to ask questions and provide comment at the meeting between NRC and Entergy officials. It is to take place Thursday at 6pm at Lakepoint Conference Center, 61 Lakepoint Lane in Russelville.