Skip to main content

Oyster Creek and NRC Inspection Findings

Jim Slider
The following guest post is by Jim Slider, NEI's Senior Project Manager, Safety-Focused Regulation.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently announced disposition of several regulatory issues from Oyster Creek Generating Station’s fourth quarter inspection report. Without context, one might be alarmed by multiple violations in one reporting period, however a thorough understanding of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process provides the right amount of perspective.

In the United States, the safety of commercial nuclear power plants is assured by several layers of protection. Beginning with robust designs and stringent procedures, plant owners like Exelon enforce high standards on the hundreds of professionals who contribute to the design, maintenance and operation of their plants. Those standards demand compliance with federal safety requirements and more. Constant scrutiny and continuous learning are important parts of those high, self-imposed expectations. When minor lapses in performance occur, it is quite common for the owner (“licensee” in NRC’s parlance) to uncover the problem first, and, as appropriate, report it to NRC and fix it.

Equally important is the assurance provided by a strong, independent regulator. In the United States, that is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) is the agency’s program to inspect, measure, and assess the safety and security performance of operating commercial nuclear power plants, and to respond to any decline in their performance. The ROP includes specified continuous and periodic inspections and performance indicators that are reported to NRC quarterly. The inspection results (“findings”) and performance indicators are graded on a color-coded scale so NRC can more easily combine them to form a whole picture of the plant’s performance. The grading and color-coding also facilitate communicating the NRC’s perception of the plant’s performance to the public, the media, and other stakeholders.

An important premise of the ROP is the understanding that most of the time inspection results and performance indicators will show the desired “Green” grades. Lapses from this high level of performance are expected to be more or less random, and promptly addressed by the plant’s corrective action process. Sometimes, due to the timing of particular NRC inspections or publication of inspection reports, the NRC may seem to be releasing an apparent “cluster” of adverse performance results on a particular plant.
Oyster Creek Generating Station

This can give a misleading impression of a sudden decline in plant performance. To address this “lumpiness” of input data, the ROP framework specifies that the NRC’s comprehensive semiannual review of plant performance should encompass at least 12 months of performance data. In addition, the ROP provides for special inspections to dig deeper into the causes and corrections of individual lapses that are graded as more safety-significant than the random “Green” result. Thus, NRC will mount special inspections to follow up on the White and Yellow inspection findings, as well as the White performance indicator recorded in the third quarter of 2014.

Oyster Creek was judged to be operating at the highest levels of the ROP for most of the past five years. As Exelon responds to the current set of inspection findings and NRC follow-up, we have every reason to expect that Exelon’s response to the findings will underscore their commitment to improve performance in those areas.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …