Energy Northwest Shutdowns Raise Concernsby Annette Cary
The News Tribune, May 23, 2010
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is concerned about a trend of too many unplanned scrams, or shutdowns, of operations at Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station.
The plant is now among about 19 of 104 nuclear plants in the nation receiving heightened oversight by the NRC because of the number of scrams at the nuclear power plant north of Richland.
The NRC staff will be in Richland Tuesday for a public meeting to review last year's performance of the plant. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at Energy Northwest's Business Services Center, 3000 George Washington Way.
The reactor operated safely during 2009, according to the NRC. But the number of scrams and other unexpected conditions while operating "indicated an adverse trend that must be addressed by the licensee," the NRC said in a statement.
"We have very high standards and a very low threshold for identifying issues before they become problems," said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks.
The Columbia Generating Station had five unplanned scrams last year and an additional unplanned scram in the third quarter of 2008, bringing the total to six in two years.
Energy Northwest is hoping the adverse trend is behind it, but because a rolling two years of performance are considered it will take time for its performance to improve statistically, said Michael Paoli, Energy Northwest spokesman.
The plant has operated 188 days without a shutdown as of last week, he said.
The NRC notified Energy Northwest in its annual assessment letter that there appeared to be an issue with equipment reliability. Organizational factors that may have contributed to the trend needed to be identified, including decision making and work control, the letter said.
Examples included failing to perform an adequate site acceptance test of a system, failing to properly evaluate work scope changes for preventive maintenance inspections on some electrical equipment and failing to implement guidance and standards provided in an operations instruction, which resulted in a scram, the letter said.
The most recent scram was in early November, when hydraulic fluid leaked from an O-ring. The leak affected the plant's main turbine, so the Columbia Generating Station was shut down while repairs were made.
In August, uninsulated wire led to an electrical flash that scorched metal, and in June dripping oil sparked a small fire in the insulation around the plant's turbine system.
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