Aug. 26--PLYMOUTH -- The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station was again producing electricity Thursday after a four-day shutdown to repair a massive malfunctioning valve.
Although its return to production has irked some watchdogs seeking the plant's permanent closure, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the problem did not warrant such action.
The main steam isolation valve, one of eight designed to close quickly to prevent radioactivity from leaking into the environment during a nuclear incident, failed during testing Aug. 18.
It was part of the same valve system that caused Pilgrim to shut down in August 2015.
The Cape-based Pilgrim Legislative Action Coalition sent a letter to federal regulators calling the valve failure "yet more evidence of Entergy's unwillingness to maintain Pilgrim."
"It's obvious that Entergy's safety culture is severely lacking and they consciously choose to jeopardize public safety, but Entergy's job is to make money; it's the regulator's job to ensure that it does so safely," said the coalition's letter, written by member David Agnew.
The coalition demanded Pilgrim's immediate shutdown.
The Cape Downwinders sent their own letter. "How many demonstrations of reckless risk-taking and how bad does it have to hurt before the NRC stops enabling this kind of behavior at Pilgrim?" states the letter, signed by group members William Maurer, Don Barton and Diane Turco. "We ask that Pilgrim be ordered to cease operations immediately and not operate ever again."
The valve incident was not "a game-changer" that would lead to permanent shutdown, said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"That's not the way we view it," he said. "We look at risk significance, and we still have increased regulatory oversight."
Federal regulators have set requirements that must be met before a reactor can restart, said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Workers went through that checklist, with NRC inspectors spot-checking them, en route to the decision to restart Pilgrim," Lochbaum said. "Pilgrim has not yet reached the point on that yardstick that invokes a 'safety timeout,' but it added one more notch toward that point with this recent shutdown."
Sheehan said the faulty parts have been replaced.
"The company has shipped the removed parts to the valve vendor for further examination," Sheehan said. "We will review those results as soon as they are available."
Pilgrim, owned and operated by Entergy Corp., was lowered to the Column 4 performance category by the commission in September, making it one of the worst-performing plants in the country. The category is one step from forced shutdown.
Based on federal inspections and reports, the 44-year-old plant, slated to permanently shut down in June 2019, continues to be plagued by equipment problems and poor operator performance.
"They don't do maintenance, then something breaks and they have to power down, which means losing money," said Mary Lampert, director of the Pilgrim Watch group.
State Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, said equipment problems in the plant might indicate other serious safety issues on the site.
"My concern is if they have the same mechanical issues in the (spent-fuel) storage process as they have in the plant, we should be focusing on that," Wolf said. "All of these failures point to the need for a quick shutdown and rapid decommissioning."
In May, a boron panel used to prevent a nuclear reaction from occurring in the spent-fuel pool was found to have deteriorated. Spent fuel rods were moved out of the area of the deteriorated panel.
Entergy is expected to place Pilgrim into SAFSTOR once it shuts down, which allows the reactor and other buildings to remain where they are for up to 60 years. Spent fuel eventually will be placed in heavy dry casks on the property.
Sheehan said Pilgrim remained under close scrutiny. Two team inspections already have taken place this year and a third is expected by year-end, he said.
"We'll bring in inspectors from other regions," Sheehan said. "It will be a holistic view of everything the company has done."
-- Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.
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