Inspection raises questions at Pilgrim nuclear plant

Plymouth, Ma., 8/31/06: HOMELAND SECURITY 911, the Pilgrim Nuclear power plant on the seashore of Plymouth.( David L Ryan/Globe staff photo )section: Projects slug: 911 story reporter Library Tag 04132008 Globe South Library Tag 01312010 Globe South
Globe file
The Pilgrim nuclear power plant is on the seashore in Plymouth.

Federal regulators found four violations during an inspection of Plymouth’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station this fall, citing the plant for issues affecting the plant’s ability to monitor radiation and to contain it in an emergency.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which detailed the findings in a regular quarterly report issued Monday, said there was no evidence that the public had been exposed to harm.

The report comes as the plant is under heightened regulatory scrutiny. Pilgrim’s reactor, which is scheduled to shut down in 2019 , has a safety record that is among the three worst-performing plants in the country, according to the NRC.


On Nov. 28, Pilgrim will begin a lengthy, separate evaluation in which about 20 inspectors will review the plant’s operation as required due to its low safety rating, said agency spokesman Neil Sheehan.

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The report issued this week is not part of the review, Sheehan said, though its findings could help guide the inspectors as they return to the 44-year-old plant, which has been run by Entergy Corp. since 1999.

“We’re sending a message to the company that it needs to take action to address these issues, and we’ll be following up to make sure that occurs,” he said of the report, which covered the third quarter of the year.

Other recent quarterly reports have found fewer problems: one in the second quarter and none in the first. Inspectors found four problems in the fourth quarter of last year. All the findings, including those in this week’s report, had “very low safety significance,” the NRC said.

In a statement about the latest report, Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien said the company is “committed to continuously strengthening our ability to identify and resolve any existing and potential issues in a timely, effective manner that not only meets the NRC’s expectations but also the high standards to which we hold ourselves.”


He said the findings “were entered into our formal corrective action program to ensure resolution and to preclude recurrence.”

The quarterly report said plant staff left open electrical cabinet doors during a five-hour August test of a backup generator, which could have endangered the operation of key safety equipment if an earthquake had taken place.

The NRC also found that the plant did not know that parts of its radiation monitoring system were not working, the report said.

It added that officials had not replaced outdated electrical equipment, which “increased the likelihood of failure for safety systems.” Five of the six components had been in place for 31 years, but had a recommended life of 10.

Furthermore, the NRC found that Entergy did not conduct a timely evaluation of isolation valves that could contain radiation if there was an emergency. It took the plant 74 days to conclude that the valves were working, the report said.


Mary Lampert of the group PilgrimWatch said Tuesday that the findings — especially the one about the outdated equipment — call the plant’s safety efforts into question.

“If they were concerned about safety and not the bottom line, they would say, ‘Whoops, it’s on the calendar. Ten years is coming up, we’ve got to replace them,’ ” Lampert said.

Andy Rosen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.