NRC Issues Notice of Violation to Entergy Nuclear Palisades
for High-Level Radioactive Waste Risk
Watchdogs Call for Safety Upgrades on Indoor Pool and Outdoor Dry Cask Irradiated Fuel Storage
Covert, MI—The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued an official violation notice to Entergy, owner of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, for a problem in the irradiated fuel storage pool, according to a public announcement from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Midwest regional headquarters in Lisle, IL. The NRC Notice of Violation is attached.
In the Notice of Violation dated January 20, NRC acting regional administrator Cynthia Pederson wrote:
“During a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection completed on November 9, 2009, a violation of NRC requirements was identified. In accordance with the NRC Enforcement Policy, the violation is listed below:
Technical Specification (TS) 4.3.1, Amendment 189, required, in part that Region I fuel storage racks be designed and maintained with a Keff ≤ 0.95, if fully flooded with unborated water, which includes allowances for uncertainties as described in Section 9.11 of the Updated Final Safety Analysis Report.
Contrary to the above, from July 2008 to February 6, 2009, the licensee failed to maintain the Region I fuel storage racks with a Keff ≤ 0.95 when fully flooded with unborated water. Specifically, the Region I fuel storage racks contained fixed poison in the form of boron carbide (B4C) plates which were less than required by the TS to ensure the design feature was met. The B4C neutron absorption capability degraded to the point that Keff in Region I was greater than 0.95 under the bounding conditions described in Section 9.11 of the Updated Final Safety Analysis Report.”
Boron absorbs neutrons, preventing them from interacting between irradiated fuel rods stored in Palisades’ pool. Without sufficient neutron absorption and submerged underwater, highly radioactive waste fuel rods at Palisades could undergo and sustain an inadvertent, accidental chain reaction, which could lead to a serious radiological release to the environment, endangering human health.
"In order to make electricity, a nuclear reactor is designed to have a self sustaining nuclear chain reaction and also has a cooling mechanism to absorb the heat generated from the chain reaction. In contrast, a nuclear spent fuel pool is specifically designed to not create a chain reaction, and therefore, spent fuel pools cannot remove the heat if a chain reaction was to occur. The NRC nuke speak basically says that the spent fuel pool came dangerously close to overheating, boiling the water in the pool dry, overheating the zircalloy fuel clad, and causing a fire that cannot be extinguished once it begins. Palisades received this violation because it failed to adequately protect public health and safety," said Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. Gundersen once served as a Senior Vice President of a nuclear engineering division that built irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool racks.
Upon learning of the Notice of Violation, environmental watchdogs immediately called for safety upgrades at both the indoor pool and the outdoor dry casks used to store highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel at the Palisades atomic reactor in Covert near South Haven on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
“There is enough fissile uranium-235 and plutonium-239 in the high-level radioactive wastes crammed into the Palisades pool that without proper protections, a dangerous nuclear chain reaction could be sparked,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. “A nuclear chain reaction in the Palisades pool could be a deadly risk to plant workers and emergency responders, and could lead to an even worse radioactive disaster, given the hundreds of tons of irradiated nuclear fuel crammed into Palisades’ pool,” he added.
An accidental nuclear chain reaction at a uranium fuel fabrication factory in Tokai-Mura, Japan in 1999 resulted in the deaths of two workers from radiation poisoning, and the exposure of hundreds of area residents to harmful radiation doses in excess of “permissible” regulatory limits.
Palisades came precariously close to a serious waste pool accident in October 2005, when a stuck crane resulted in a fully loaded, 107 ton irradiated nuclear fuel cask dangling over the pool for 43 hours. Palisades workers inappropriately attempted to override the crane’s emergency brake, risking a heavy load drop that could have breached the pool and drained the cooling water. In 2001, NRC reported that a drained pool’s waste could catch fire within hours, leading to a catastrophic radioactive inferno causing 25,000 cancer deaths downwind out to distances as far away as 500 miles.
“Not only is the pool a clear and present danger, but the dozens of outdoor silos of concrete and steel holding overflow high-level radioactive waste present their own dire risks,” said Michael Keegan of Don’t Waste Michigan. “A cask with defective welds has sat, fully loaded, just 100 yards or so from the waters of Lake Michigan since 1994,” he added.
"The product is forever poison, the byproduct of electricity is fleeting,” Keegan said. “Once again the risk of nuclear power is borne by the public, as Entergy runs Palisades into the ground by neglecting safety and deferring essential upkeep," he added.
“Both dry cask storage pads at Palisades are in violation of NRC earthquake safety regulations,” said Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney that represented the environmental coalition which unsuccessfully sought to block Palisades’ 20 year license extension. “Our expert witness, Dr. Ross Landsman, acting as NRC dry cask storage inspector for the Midwest region, warned his superiors beginning in 1993 that an earthquake at Palisades could result in air-cooled high-level radioactive waste being submerged underwater in Lake Michigan, where not only would its cooling be disrupted, but an accidental nuclear chain reaction could also be sparked,” Lodge added.
"I have to wonder if Entergy is accounting for public safety in its internal spending priorities,” Lodge concluded.
“With the cancellation of the proposed dumpsite for high-level radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, Palisades’ on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel can be viewed as de facto permanent,” Kamps said. “Given the many decades or even centuries that the wastes will remain on the Lake Michigan shoreline, the safety, security, health and environmental risks must be carefully managed, with no margin for error. Palisades needs to be shut down and its radioactive waste generation stopped for good,” Kamps concluded.
Electrical problem at Palisades plant
NRC: Public not in danger after power reduction
Updated: Sunday, 09 Jan 2011, 7:04 AM EST
Published : Sunday, 09 Jan 2011, 12:25 AM EST
SOUTH HAVEN, Mich (WOOD) - An electrical problem at the Palisades nuclear power plant near South Haven reduced power output at the nuclear plant to about 55% of normal on Saturday afternoon.
Viktoria Mytling, the senior public affairs officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that the problem never resulted in any condition at the plant that would have put the public in danger.
She said an electrical problem in a circuit breaker caused pumps and fans that work in one of the cooling towers to lose power at about 1 p.m. Saturday.
That meant that one of the station's two cooling towers had to go offline. Mytling said the shutdown of the pumps and fans did not result in a dangerous condition to the core. Power output from the plant was reduced to about 55% of regular.
Mytling says the plant operators are not sure what caused the power issue in the first place, but an inspection was done by on-site regulators, and the cause is being investigated.
She stressed that the power problem did not affect any equipment that was significant to safety, and did not affect anything connected to the reactor.
The plant is in stable condition right now, but operators did declare an unusual event to the NRC, which is the lowest classification of emergency, according to the agency.
"The plant informed the NRC, we had experts evaluate what happened, 2 resident inspectors came to the site, they reviewed the actions that were taken, and we're told they'll restore the breaker," Mytling said.
The plant was still not operating at full power as of midnight on Saturday.
Mytling said the incident is not a situation that would have an impact on public health and safety.
The plant is operated by Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. and began operating in December, 1971.
Power Reactor Event Number: 46524
Region: 3 State: MI
Unit:  [ ] [ ]
RX Type:  CE
NRC Notified By: ADAM SMITH
HQ OPS Officer: JOE O'HARA Notification Date: 01/08/2011
Notification Time: 13:21 [ET]
Event Date: 01/08/2011
Event Time: 13:03 [EST]
Last Update Date: 01/09/2011
Emergency Class: UNUSUAL EVENT
10 CFR Section:
50.72(a) (1) (i) - EMERGENCY DECLARED
CHRISTINE LIPA (R3DO)
ERIC LEEDS (NRR)
MIKE CHEOK (NRR)
WILLIAM GOTT (IRD)
MARK SATORIUS (R3)
Unit SCRAM Code RX CRIT Initial PWR Initial RX Mode Current PWR Current RX Mode
1 N Y 100 Power Operation 55 Power Operation
UNUSUAL EVENT DECLARED DUE TO CATASTROPHIC FAILURE OF NON-SAFETY RELATED BUS BREAKER
A notice of unusual event was declared for 'Hazards and other conditions affecting plant safety' at 1303 EST for Emergency Action Level (EAL) HU1 as a result of a breaker/bus fault in a non-safety related feeder bus 'F'. The loss of the bus resulted in loss of cooling water tower pumps and fans and subsequently a loss of one cooling tower. There is indication of a pressure transient on the breaker panel and smoke but no fire. There is no indication of sabotage or terrorism, and no offsite assistance requested. There is no radiological release in progress. The NRC remains in the normal mode. NRC Resident staff are enroute to the site. Plant is stable at 55 % reactor power following a down-power maneuver from 100% reactor power with all safety related equipment operable.
* * * UPDATE FROM CARYLIN MCCOY TO JOHN KNOKE AT 0102 EST ON 01/09/11 * * *
At 0043 Palisades terminated from their Unusual Event for 'Hazards and Other Conditions Affecting Plant Safety'. The faulted bus has been isolated, and licensee started their investigation into the cause of this incident. The licensee has tagged out and racked out the breaker, and has isolated the startup power to the 'F' bus. The associated Startup Transformer has also been isolated. The 'F' bus and associated Startup Transformer will not be energized until the situation is better understood, and repaired if necessary. Power level will be maintained at 53% due to the loss of associated equipment supporting one cooling tower. The licensee is in a 72 hour LCO.
The licensee has notified the NRC Resident Inspector. Notified the R3DO (Christine Lipa), IRD MOC (Bill Gott), NRR EO (Mike Cheok), DHS (Gates), FEMA (Casto)
Palisades nuclear power plant on Lake Michigan / Associated Press
The Palisades nuclear power plant, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan, could soon be downgraded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to a status making it among the nation's five worst-performing nuclear plants after a year of accidents, unexpected shutdowns and safety violations.
From the EIA: A primer on nuclear reactors
The regional head of the NRC said last week that if performance does not improve, the agency would not hesitate to shut down the plant. Palisades is one of the nation's 10 oldest nuclear plants, and after hitting its 40-year life-span in 2011, its license was extended until 2031.
"Quite frankly, we find your performance troubling, and it declined in 2011," regional administration Cynthia Pederson said in a rare public rebuke of the plant owned by Entergy Nuclear Operations.
Entergy acknowledged mistakes. One accident in September led to a loss of electricity at the plant that tripped its reactor and caused equipment to malfunction.
The accident "could have killed somebody," the plant's manager said last week in a shaken voice.
That was one of at least five unexpected shutdowns of the plant in the past year after valves malfunctioned, seals leaked or pumps failed. The NRC spent 1,000 extra hours last year inspecting the plant.
Antinuclear activists and watchdogs say there are even deeper problems the NRC has not addressed, including Entergy not having replaced major components that former owner Consumers Energy said needed to be replaced when it sold the plant in 2006. Although their age makes those components vulnerable, the NRC says the components still meet safety standards.
"If all these failings and accidents line up in just the right way, we could have a very bad day at Palisades," said Kevin Kamps, a Kalamazoo native and staff member at Beyond Nuclear near Washington, D.C.
Palisades nuclear plant accident investigated
It began with a light bulb.
Trying to fix a burned-out light bulb on an indicator button led to a serious incident that left the Palisades nuclear plant on Lake Michigan without half its electrical power on Sept. 25, 2011. A piece of equipment slipped while a worker was troubleshooting on a live electrical panel, causing an arc of electricity and a loss of half the indicators in the room that controls the reactor. Signals went haywire for a while. The plant shut down.
A plant spokesman notified local newspapers of the shutdown as required, but assured the public there were no safety risks.
Behind the scenes, the reaction was not so mild.
"This was an avoidable event," plant manager David Hamilton said last week at a daylong Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting on the incident, where Palisades managers were questioned at length about what happened.
In taking his share of the blame, Hamilton said, "I apologize if I get emotional, but I could have killed somebody that weekend."
Anthony Vitale, vice president of operations for Entergy at Palisades, said he was thankful that operators were properly trained and had been able to respond to prevent the accident from getting any worse. "I saw the look on the shift manager's face," he said. "I can tell you, I will never let that happen again."
In the meeting last week in Chicago, regulators said it wasn't even so much what did happen, as what could have.
The NRC has preliminarily flagged the incident as "yellow," one that has substantial safety significance.
Though they took the blame and promised fixes, Entergy officials said the problems stemmed in part from employees' failures to follow Entergy procedures used at its other plants. Entergy bought the plant in 2007 from Consumers Energy, which had operated it for decades.
"You've run it for four years," said Cynthia Pederson, the NRC administrator for Region III, which oversees nuclear plants in the Midwest. "Frankly, we're tired of that excuse."
Vitale and Hamilton admitted that the company's safety culture was lax, meaning some people were not as risk-conscious as they should be.
"We understand we need improvements in our people and our plant," Vitale said. The company has brought in a consultant to help it ramp up safety.
The incident was one of five unexpected reactor trips, three serious incidents and a violation in the last year that have landed the plant in hot water.
"We're concerned with the accidents and violations we've identified," Pederson told the Free Press on Thursday.
She listed Palisades' problems: organizational failures, a plan for change that came only after performance had declined steeply, poor instructions for work that needed to be done, failing to follow procedures, poor supervision and oversight, poor maintenance and multiple events caused by human errors or equipment failures. "The list could go on," she said.
"What we want to see is a change in performance," Pederson said. The plant already had more than 1,000 hours of extra NRC inspections last year and will undergo more this year, she said. A plant that is performing well gets about 2,500 hours yearly. The NRC wants to make sure the company finds and fixes the root causes of each problem.
Each year, most of the nation's 104 reactors have minor problems that are considered of very low safety significance. Those plants are in the "green" category, which allows baseline inspections by resident NRC inspectors, who are on-site daily. Michigan's two other nuclear plants -- Fermi 2 and D.C. Cook -- are in the green category.
When more serious problems are discovered, the NRC puts plants into downgraded categories, starting with white, then yellow and then red, depending on seriousness. Without improvement, a red plant is shut down until problems are fixed.
The further the plant is downgraded, the more inspections it requires.
Earlier this month, the NRC determined that a pump failure at Palisades last May was a white finding, of low to moderate significance, and moved the plant from the green category to white. A dozen other U.S. plants are in that same category. That problem was caused by workers who didn't follow the right maintenance procedures, the NRC said.
Last week's hearing covered two other preliminary findings, one white and one yellow. If one or both are upheld, the plant could be downgraded to yellow.
Only two other plants nationwide are in that category now. A third plant is in the red, or worst, category, and a fourth is completely shut down after flood damage last year.
The second white finding, still preliminary, was that one of three critical water pumps used to cool the plant failed in May 2011 because of corrosion of a coupling; the same thing had happened in 2009 but the company had not determined the correct cause. The preliminary yellow finding was the electrical failure.
The NRC also issued a legal violation against Palisades earlier this month, separate from its performance reviews, after a supervisor walked off in anger from his job in the plant's control room in October 2010, without seeking permission to leave or asking anyone to take over his duties. The control room is the most sensitive area of the plant, overseeing the reactor's operation. Pederson said the company has promised corrective action and could yet be fined in that case.
Palisades already spent part of 2008 and most of 2009 in the white category because of problems at the plant.
David Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists and a nuclear engineer, said the NRC's system of colored findings and increased inspections when plants are downgraded is a vast improvement over the way the agency used to do business.
The NRC used to assess performance every 18 months to two years. "Problems had to grow to epidemic proportions before the old system flagged them," he said, and the agency had no means to compel fixes. Since 2000, when the system changed to assessing 25 performance criteria every three months, it's quicker to detect and solve issues.
"It doesn't rely on words, promises or excuses," he said. As plants are downgraded, more NRC inspectors show up. If a plant has deeper problems, the inspectors will find them. A plant can't be upgraded until the NRC does a major inspection that finds no major problems.
"It's about objective evidence," Lochbaum said.
Besides human failures, the plant has underlying equipment issues, some of them because of its age, antinuclear activists say. Cables break, aging pipes burst, reactor vessels deteriorate and corrosion hits equipment.
Palisades was completed in 1967 but didn't open until 1971. It's among the nation's 10 oldest plants. Its life-span was planned as 40 years, like other reactors. The NRC granted it a 20-year extension to 2031 four years ago. About 70 other plants have won similar extensions.
A 2011 Associated Press investigation found that the NRC often worked closely with plant operators to keep aging reactors within safety standards by weakening the standards.
Kevin Kamps, a watchdog with Beyond Nuclear, a Maryland nonprofit that opposes nuclear plants, said that has happened with some components at Palisades. In 2006, when Consumers Energy was seeking permission to sell Palisades to Entergy, it did a presentation to the Michigan Public Service Commission showing what fixes needed to be made and arguing that Entergy would be in a good position to afford them.
Many of those fixes still haven't been made. The reactor vessel at Palisades is possibly the most brittle in the country, meaning radiation bombarding the vessel has weakened the metal, according to NRC studies done on the problem at plants around the country to try to determine fixes for it, Lochbaum said.
Pederson acknowledged that problem Thursday but said that the vessel still meets acceptable safety standards.
Another problem, a corroded reactor lid that Consumers said in 2006 needed replacing, also falls within acceptable safety standards for now, she said.
Kamps said opponents of the plant wanted it shut down instead of winning a 20-year extension. "It's an accident waiting to happen," he said.
Pederson disagreed and said the plant is not dangerous to its neighbors.
"If it were, I'd shut it down immediately," she said.
Reporting by By Tina Lam
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Our Sincere Thanks to this investigative reporting!!
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