NRC cites Nuclear Management Co. over safety issue at Point Beach plant


June 21, 2002 -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will meet June 25 in Lisle, Illinois, with representatives of Nuclear Management Company to discuss the safety significance of an inadequate critique of two issues during an emergency preparedness exercise at the Point Beach Nuclear Power Station.

The NRC said a "white" violation of NRC safety regulations had occurred at the plant near Two Rivers, Wisconsin. A "white" code means that it is an issue of low to moderate importance to safety. The two-reactor facility is located near Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

The meeting, called a Regulatory Conference, will seek the utility's evaluation of its significance.

On February 20 a pump in the safety injection system, one of the Unit 2 emergency cooling systems, failed because of a build up of nitrogen gas in the associated piping. The nitrogen had leaked into the piping from the safety injection accumulators, another part of the plant emergency systems which could inject water into the reactor cooling system using pressurized nitrogen in the event of an accident.
The letter transmitting the May 14 report provided the company with an opportunity to request a regulatory conference to discuss this issue. Nuclear Management Company subsequently informed the NRC that it did not contest the "white" characterization of the safety significance of this finding and did not request a meeting with the NRC staff.
In addition to the "white" determination, the NRC issued a Notice of Violation to Nuclear Management Company for failing to take prompt corrective action to prevent the pump failure.
In April 2000 the utility, in response to an Information Notice issued by the NRC, found that the safety injection pumps were susceptible to damage in the event of nitrogen leakage from the accumulators into the safety injection piping. On two subsequent occasions, plant operators observed decreasing levels in the safety injection accumulators, indicating possible nitrogen leakage. Corrective actions, which might have precluded the February 20 pump damage, were not taken.

NRC inspectors also determined that the Point Beach staff offered inadequate critiques of two issues during an emergency preparedness exercise held on February 12. In the first instance, Point Beach staff offered a positive evaluation of participants' Protective Action Recommendation (PAR) to offsite government officials, while the NRC inspectors identified questions the staff's critique had not properly evaluated.

In the second instance, NRC inspectors disagreed with the Point Beach staff's positive evaluation of the participants' decision making on the simulated removal of non-essential personnel, who were not members of the current shift of emergency responders, from the site.

Emergency preparedness exercises are held to identify performance and procedural deficiencies through a critique process to ensure that corrective action takes place before these problems can occur during an actual emergency and have an adverse reaction on public health and safety. To make safety drills effective, the plant staff's critiques of emergency preparedness drills must be thorough and self-critical.

Under its safety significance determination process, NRC officials classify certain conditions at nuclear power plants as being one of four colors which delineate increasing levels of safety significance, beginning with green and progressing to white, yellow or red.
The white finding will result in a future NRC inspection focusing on the plant's corrective action program and its response to the pump failure.

The details of the NRC inspection findings are discussed in Inspection Report 2002-04 which is available online in the NRC's electronic reading room. This report -- with the accession number ML021210488 -- may be viewed in the NRC's ADAMS document system, accessible at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html.

The final significance determination will be available on the NRC web site at http://www.nrc.gov/what-we-do/regulatory/enforcement/current.html#reactor.

The plant, located to the west of Lake Michigan, is operated by NMC, a nuclear operating company. The plant is owned by Wisconsin Electric Power Co .

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