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Oyster Creek was 'Strong' and 'Safe' Throughout Sandy

NRC reports no finding in special inspection of Oyster Creek Generating Station's response to Hurricane Sandy; Exelon pinpoints one error.

No findings were identified in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s special inspection of Oyster Creek Generating Station’s response to Sandy.

“Overall, the emergency preparedness performance was good; however the inspectors observed some areas where performance could be improved,” the report said.

The NRC conducted an inspection after the superstorm, primarily to determine if the alert declaration and notification was timely and accurate, the report said. It was also conducted to expand on the inspection activities performed by the resident and regional inspectors who provided real time hurricane response coverage.

Although the NRC’s initial evaluation of the event satisfied criteria in the NRC Inspection Manual Chapter, “Reactive Inspection Decision Basis for Reactors,” the federal agency decided to conduct a special inspection due to initial concerns that the nuclear power plant may not have met the planning standards associated with the classification and notification of an event.

The single finding identified by Oyster Creek was labeled “green,” a NRC violation of very low safety significance.

“That was something that our people noticed and self corrected,” Oyster Creek spokesperson Suzanne D’Ambrosio said.

Exelon Corporation, the owner and operator of Oyster Creek, identified that the Notification of Unusual Event offsite notification was inaccurate because the required meteorological information provided in the notification had a wind direction error, the report says.

The plant, which was shut down for a planned refueling outage scheduled prior to Sandy, had an Unusual Event declared as water levels in the plant’s intake structure reached higher than normal levels.

Meter data is taken from a tower, D’Ambrosio explained. The wind direction was taken at the wrong location on the tower.

“It was an error,” D’Ambrosio said. “It was a small error in notation within the notification. It had no effect on our declaration of the Unusual Event or any type of actions that we would’ve taken as a result.”

Corrective action will be taken or planned by nuclear plant operators and entered into its corrective action program, according to the NRC report.

The issue has already been rectified and moving forward is essentially a “training mission,” D’Ambrosio said.

“We need to reiterate the importance of following recordkeeping to the exact letter and using coworkers and peers to check things as well,” she said.

Although the NRC reported no findings, inspectors did note areas in need of improvement. For example, plant inspectors encountered challenges with control room log keeping clarity, making it difficult to determine whether alert declarations and notifications were completed accurately and timely.

Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said the report was “not independent and not thorough.” Tittel was implied that the plant’s facility may be impacted by Sandy in ways that go unnoticed, such as its already “corroded pipes.”

“The NRC looks the other way yet again with the problems at Oyster Creek,” he said. “The NRC should be figuring out ways to close this plant down as Hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call on just how vulnerable this plant is.”

Tittel also voiced concerns regarding the plants’ warning system and evacuation procedures and routes.

“We were very lucky that Hurricane Sandy storm surge wasn’t worse and that the plant was off line. Hurricane sandy was a disaster, but if the storm was a little worse we could have had a real tragedy,” Tittel said.

When Oyster Creek is undergoing a refueling and maintenance outage, thousands of inspections, tests and maintenance is done, D’Ambrosio said. Staff also monitors the way equipment runs.

“We have 700 people who work at Oyster Creek,” she said. “Hundreds of people whose job is to watch the way the plant runs. Surveillance and inspections are constant.”

Also, Exelon is in the process of installing battery backup systems all sirens at each of its sites, including Oyster Creek in 2013.

“The NRC concurred with what we had said, that Oyster Creek was strong and safe throughout Sandy and we rebounded right back from it,” D’Ambrosio said. “We’re operating safely, efficiently and generating electricity.”

The NRC’s report breaks down the power plant’s response to Hurricane Sandy hour by hour. The NRC then analyzes the plant’s emergency preparedness program performance, emergency response organization activation, organizational response, procedure adequacy, operator training and post-event problem identification.

See the attached PDF for a copy of the report.

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