Nuclear regulators boost oversight of Massachusetts plant

AP News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2015 4:43 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Federal inspectors said Wednesday they're increasing their oversight of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in the wake of a shutdown during a winter storm.

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say the decision to ramp up inspections at the Entergy-owned plant in Plymouth follows the shutdown in January and involves the facility's safety relief valves.

The agency said the inspections will examine the company's own evaluation of the problem and will study the company's review of whether the issue could have extended to other equipment or systems.

The plant shut down automatically during a Jan. 27 blizzard when an electric connection to the grid was interrupted. The plant was also taken offline during a subsequent snowstorm.

The inspection team will review any corrective actions carried out by plant owners and will also evaluate what the NRC called "the breadth and depth of the performance deficiencies, assess the company's evaluation of its safety culture, and independently perform a graded assessment of the plant's safety culture."

The president of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. said the company will consider what actions it needs to take to return Pilgrim to normal NRC oversight.

"While we are confident that Pilgrim continues to be a safely operated plant with highly professional and well-trained employees, we will review all the information and feedback provided by the NRC in order to continue to enhance our performance at the station," Entergy Wholesale Commodities President Bill Mohl said in a statement.

The NRC voted in 2012 to relicense Pilgrim through 2032.

Groups representing residents living near the Pilgrim nuclear power plant have regularly pressed the NRC to revoke Pilgrim's license.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is in constant contact with federal regulators and needs to keep an eye on the issues raised by the NRC's latest actions.

Baker also said he continues to have confidence in the plant.

"I toured it recently and we walked through all the safety protocols and I believe it is safe," Baker told reporters Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat, said the NRC must keep up its aggressive oversight of the plant, given what he called Pilgrim's long-standing and repetitive safety problems and unplanned shutdowns.

He said that's particularly important since Pilgrim has a design similar to the reactors at the Fukushima plant in Japan, which failed after an earthquake and tsunami. Entergy officials have said Pilgrim has backup systems that the Japanese plant lacked.

Markey said the NRC should also require Entergy to pay for the distribution of potassium iodide, an anti-radiation drug that can help prevent thyroid cancer caused by radiation released during a reactor meltdown.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Entergy must "act swiftly and decisively to correct these issues and restore the public's trust in its ability to safely operate this plant."