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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Millstone safety problems continue

“Unplanned” shut-down and an NRC special inspection
By Will Collette

Only 20 miles to the west of Charlestown, well within the danger zone in the event of a major accident, sits the Millstone nuclear power plant owned by Virginia-based Dominion Energy.

On January 31, Unit 2 had to be manually shut down after an electrical short in the power supply for the heaters for its water pressurization system. The emergency diesel back-up was out of service at the time. 

Unit 2 is the older of the two operating reactors at Millstone. It was built in 1975 and has been the source of many of the safety issues I have reported to you.

More troubling is the decision by the Region 1 office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a special inspection at Millstone to examine the operations of Millstone’s back-up pumping system for Unit 3, the newer of the two reactors.

This system is vital to prevent a reactor disaster like the one that led to the Fukushima disaster after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Reactors on the US east coast are also vulnerable to natural disasters caused by hurricanes and tsunamis (yes, these have occurred in the Atlantic and will certainly occur again).

In the NRC’s news release, the NRC’s regional administrator Bill Dean said “We have witnessed problems involving this safety-related component stretching back to last May. The fact that these issues occurred on multiple occasions despite repeated efforts to repair this component has prompted us to take a closer look at the situation.”

The NRC issued a notice of violation to Millstone last November because of problems with this pumping system.

From Millstone's Safety Planning Guide: note the evacuation routes
all point north or west based on the assumption that winds will
blow from west to east (that is, in Charlestown's direction)
Even in the veiled bureaucratese of the news release, it’s pretty clear the NRC is not happy with Dominion.

The release says the inspection will focus on “Dominion’s responses to the issues, including the adequacy and completeness of testing on the pump and root-cause evaluations of the problems. For example, the third-quarter integrated inspection report for the plant includes a finding for an inadequate operability determination by the company related to the performance of the speed-controller for the pump.”

The NRC’s follow-up report using the findings of this special inspection should be issued within 45 days.