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Energy Northwest to Address 'Scrams'

by Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, May 26, 2010

Energy Northwest has taken prompt and aggressive action to address a string of unplanned shutdowns, said Scott Oxenford, chief nuclear officer of the Columbia Generating Station.

Tuesday night the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a meeting in Richland to provide the public with information about the Richland nuclear power reactor's performance last year. About 30 people attended.

Because of the unplanned shutdowns, or scrams, the plant has been receiving heightened oversight. As of Tuesday, 29 of the nation's 104 power reactors were receiving heightened oversight because of issues.

Energy Northwest's goal is to rejoin the list with the 75 reactors with top performance this summer, Oxenford said.

Two factors have been the primary drivers for six unplanned scrams from August 2008 to November 2009: underinvestment in the plant, which is now being reversed, and problems with decision making, he said after the meeting.

"Overall Energy Northwest operated Columbia Generating Station in a manner that preserved public health and safety," said Ron Cohen, the NRC senior inspector based at the plant, in his review of 2009.

However, the NRC wants the trend of unplanned scrams reversed before a more serious issue develops. It performed a supplemental assessment this spring and concluded that Energy Northwest understood the causes and the organizational issues behind the scrams.

Energy Northwest found three common causes, which were linked not to nuclear safety equipment but to equipment that's also found in nonnuclear plants, Oxenford said.

It concluded that high standards had not been set for equipment not related to safety. It has worked to correct that by moving toward a mindset that doesn't tolerate equipment failures, early identification of equipment that could have problems and using better tools to catch trends in equipment problems sooner.

The second issue was a need for improvement in decisions on equipment not related to safety. Relevant committees have been strengthened, Oxenford said.

And third, Energy Northwest found weaknesses in how polices and programs were implemented, he said. It is making its trouble-shooting process more systematic.

"We've done a lot of work," he said. Of the 13 assignments it has given itself, 13 have been completed and most of the rest will be completed by Aug. 5.

"Columbia has operated safely and I think you have a plan that you will be able to continue to operate safely," said Tony Vegel, NRC deputy director of the division for reactor projects. "NRC will be watching."

Annette Cary
Energy Northwest to Address 'Scrams'
Tri-City Herald, May 26, 2010

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