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Hanford Commercial Nuclear Reactor Cited for Safety Violations

by Staff
Salem-News, December 21, 2011

It appears that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) failed to disclose safety violations
and inspection report during a public comment period and hid the report in the holiday shuffle.

(Steve Ringman) The spent-fuel pool that holds used fuel rods is similar to those damaged at Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex. Nuclear experts say it's the most vulnerable part of the plant. (HANFORD, Wash.) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced yesterday that it issued safety violations for five events this spring and summer at the Northwest's sole commercial nuclear reactor, located on the Hanford Nuclear eservation. The incidents included loss of over four thousand gallons of reactor coolant and water twice in four months, and the insertion of reactor control rods when operators believed they were withdrawing the rods. The NRC found that:

"(O)perators chose to proceed with work when it was not approved, was outside the bounds of the procedure, or when they experienced unexpected plant conditions. In these instances, conservative decision making was not evident. In a few instances, operators suspected that something was wrong but didn't speak up."
The findings and violations were provided to the reactor operator, Energy Northwest, prior to the close of the public comment period on the environmental impact statement for Energy Northwest's application to relicense the reactor to operate until the year 2043. The citizens' group Heart of America Northwest, objected because the findings were not provided to the public before the close of comments, and the comment period was not extended to allow the public to review and comment on their significance.

"The NRC relies on the nuclear plant operator's experience and maintenance program to determine if it can relicense a nuclear reactor to operate an additional twenty years," explained Heart of America Northwest Director, Gerry Pollet. "By failing to provide the results of the inspection for these five serious incidents, the public and experts have been denied the opportunity to review and comment on how Energy Northwest's failure to follow procedures and notices affect its claim to use operating experience to properly maintain the reactor to run until the year 2043."

The NRC had initially promised to release the inspection before the close of comments, but then delayed release.

NRC summary of the five events:

During the most recent refueling outage from April to September 2011, the licensee experienced five events. Those events included:

  1. On April 11, while filling the reactor vessel to approximately the reactor vessel flange level, approximately 4000 gallons of reactor coolant inventory were lost to the containment sump because two in-series steam line drain valves were left in the open position (see NRC Inspection Report 05000397/2011002).

  2. From July 28 to 30, operators inadvertently drained approximately 4300 gallons of water from the reactor vessel through two main steam line drain valves. Operators had failed to ensure that the reactor vessel level indication reference leg remained vented to atmosphere, which resulted in inaccurate reactor vessel level readings. This condition persisted for approximately 40 hours.

  3. Licensee Event Report 05000397/2011-002-00: Loss of Shutdown Cooling Due to Logic Card Failures: On August 27, the licensee experienced a loss of residual heat removal event following the spurious trip of a reactor protection system train B circuit card. This licensee event report is closed based on the results from this inspection.

  4. On September 10, operators failed to follow site procedures and, for a short period, inadvertently diverted water from the reactor vessel to the suppression pool through the residual heat removal pump minimum flow valve. Reactor vessel level decreased approximately 2 inches.

  5. On September 15, operators failed to properly coordinate two control rod drive surveillances. Control rods were moving faster than expected and two control rods, when given a withdrawal command, inserted instead. Operators then manually inserted the control rods and they appeared to scram (insert very rapidly).
For Event 2, inaccurate reactor pressure level readings for 40 hours, "the NRC team observed that a failure to implement the codified operating instructions was a direct contributor to the operator errors documented in this report." The NRC rated the violations "green" as non cited violations because mitigating equipment remained in place, there was not a loss of control and the events occurred during refueling outage.

The NRC letter is dated December 15, 2011, but was only issued to the public yesterday (December 20, 2011). On November 2, the NRC provided the report to Energy Northwest and had a formal meeting to discuss the violations with Energy Northwest. The comment period on the environmental impact statement for the relicensing of the reactor closed on November 16 - after the NRC formally turned down a petition from Heart of America Northwest to extend the comment period until the public had time to review the safety inspection report and records requested under the state's Public Records Act from Energy Northwest (that request for records relating to the proposed use of Plutonium fuel in the reactor is still pending).

For more information on Energy Northwest's reactor relicensing and risks from the proposed use of Plutonium fuel, go to The Report is COLUMBIA GENERATING STATION - NRC SPECIAL INSPECTION REPORT 05000397/2011008 ADAMS Accession # ML113490131 accessible via NRC's Electronic Reading Room in the Agency Document Access and Management System (ADAMS),

Hanford Commercial Nuclear Reactor Cited for Safety Violations
Salem-News, December 21, 2011

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