NRC Reviews Sub-Par Performance With Pilgrim Nuclear Officials

May 4, 2014

About 150 people packed a Plymouth hotel function room, including numerous Pilgrim workers who wore buttons saying “I support Pilgrim Station – safe and secure.” Barbara Gaedke, an Administrative Assistant at Pilgrim for 34 years, said the plant is safe.

“And I think a lot of people are fearful of nuclear, and so they hear ‘accident’ or anything that’s out of the ordinary and they become afraid. But I think if you knew the people that work there, and if you knew how safe it is, it’s less fearful,” Gaedke said.

None of us are from the state of Missouri, but I think we are in the mindset of Show Me. And we are gonna look for sustained, demonstrated performance.

NRC and Entergy officials sat across from each other at the front of the room. Max Schneider is Senior NRC Resident Inspector at Pilgrim. He says NRC regulators regularly inspect maintenance activities, spent fuel storage, safety, and other factors. They then uses a complex color-coding system to grade the performance of nuclear power plants.

“So for Pilgrim in 2013, you exceeded the performance indicator numbers that transitioned you from a green indicator in the initiating event cornerstone to a white indicator,” Schneider told Entergy officials. “Two whites in one cornerstone results in a degraded cornerstone assessment.”

This complicated language means that Pilgrim is now ranked among the nine worst-performing nuclear power plants in the country. NRC regulators wanted to know what brought about this condition, and what Entergy is doing to rectify it. Entergy officials outlined a number of steps they say they’re taking to address recent problems: increased training, better equipment performance and maintenance, and leadership improvement. Pilgrim General manager Steve Verocci said Entergy also is working more closely with NStar and other grid operators to better manage risk assessment.

“That’s an improvement,” Verocci said. “For us to reach out and attempt to control those things was not something we were doing in the past. We were controlling our own switchyard. We were controlling our own equipment. In this case, we’re working with them to control the risk in their switchyards.”

Even so, the NRC put Entergy on notice that it will be looking for hard evidence of improved performance in the coming months. Pilgrim Site Vice President John Dent said he believes the plant’s performance is improving.

“We are seeing clear, objective evidence that performance is improving and moving in the right direction, so we have one objective in mind…that’s the safe, efficient operation of this power plant,” said Dent. “And the best way we know how to do that is to drive our performance back to the level of industry excellence and sustain it at that level.”

“Well, none of us are from the state of Missouri, but I think we’re in the mindset of ‘Show me,’” responded Bill Dean, NRC Region 1 Administrator. “And we’re gonna look for sustained, demonstrated performance.”

Later in the meeting, the public was invited to speak. Anna Baker of Marshfield is founder of the Pilgrim Coalition. She wondered about the large number of spent fuel rods at Pilgrim.

“I think we could all agree in this room that the spent fuel problem is a real problem, and there isn’t going to be any Federal repository any time soon,” Baker said. “The nuclear waste site has really become a nuclear waste dump. And it’s in our back yard.”

Mary Lampert of the group Pilgrim Watch agreed, and also expressed concern about the containment building.

“The containment is not able to withstand a pressure buildup. If anyone doubted that, Unit 1, 2 and 3 in Fukushima showed it,” said Lampert.

Wellfleet resident Ted Thomas is a Commissioner on the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Committee.

“With all the knowledge at hand, and the outcries of the 15 Cape towns who voted to close Pilgrim - the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Cape Cod Commission, the peoples’ Federal and State representatives including the Governor of Massachusetts - why aren’t their voices being heard?” Thomas asked.

Many of the speakers would like to see Pilgrim decommissioned. While that doesn’t appear likely, they appeared to agree with NRC regulators on at least one important point: that at the very least, Pilgrim needs to vastly improve its safety performance record if it wants to reassure the hundreds of thousands of people living nearby.