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NRC Sends Inspection Team To Pilgrim Nuclear Plant

By Mark Pratt, Associated Press
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Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

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BOSTON (AP) — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent a three-member inspection team to the Pilgrim nuclear power plant on Monday to try and figure out what led to an automatic shutdown last week that’s been blamed on human error.

The shutdown at the Plymouth plant occurred as the reactor was being returned to service May 10 from a scheduled refueling and maintenance outage.

The NRC and Entergy Corp., the owner of Pilgrim, have said there was no danger to the public or environment.

The NRC team will review plant operator performance and decision-making, the effectiveness of Entergy’s response to the event, and any actions taken by the company to prevent it from happening again, NRC Region I Administrator Bill Dean said in a statement.

The reactor was being restarted after a planned shutdown for refueling and maintenance when operators identified a higher-than-expected heat-up rate. In an attempt to compensate, the operators tried making adjustments which resulted in the automatic shutdown, called a “scram,” according to the NRC.

The reactor was operating at just 4 percent capacity at the time.

“The plant equipment did what it was supposed to do by shutting down,” plant spokeswoman Carol Wightman said.

Pilgrim is conducting its own review of the situation, she said. “We’ll work closely with the NRC and provide anything they request,” she said.

The plant was operating at 14 percent capacity on Saturday when it was shut down again following the detection of a pressure differential, she said. It remained idle on Monday.

The Pilgrim plant has come under scrutiny since the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, because the two facilities have a similar design.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, the ranking Democratic member on the House Committee on Natural Resources, is demanding answers. He said in a letter to the chairman of the NRC that the Pilgrim incident “highlights the fragility of our nuclear power plants and the need to ensure that the highest possible safety standards are required and maintained.”

Markey wants the NRC to weigh the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster as it considers relicensing Pilgrim.

“I am concerned that our nuclear regulators are not taking into account all of the new knowledge gained following the Fukushima meltdown to analyze licenses to build or extend the life of nuclear power plants,” he said in the letter.

Officials with New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. officials have told state leaders that Pilgrim is safe because it has backup systems that the Japanese plant lacked, including extra diesel generators and better venting systems. They say they have done everything to comply with relicensing requirements.

A report on the NRC’s inspection is expected to be issued within 45 days after the review’s completion.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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