nuclear regulatory commission

Former workers at the Palisades nuclear plant are accusing management of lying to regulators about attempts to fix a work environment where managers put a chill on critical feedback from employees. 

Thursday night’s meeting to review Palisades' performance last year started out pretty typically.

Regulators noted a survey that found security officers fear retaliation if they raise certain concerns.

Company officials got a chance to respond. Otto Gustafson, Director of Regulatory and Performance Improvement at Palisades, said management is taking the concerns very seriously and outlined a plan to correct the problem. 

But then Chris Malich stepped to the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting and called Gustafson and other officials out.

“I’ve seen it over and over,” Malich told regulators, “They’ve said things are going to change, things are going to change, and they stay the same.”

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

People will get two opportunities this week to hear how the Palisades nuclear plant is doing. Palisades was recently listed as one of the worst-performing plants in the country.

Regulators have raised the plant's official safety rating, but they say the safety culture among security staff still needs to improve.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The head of the nation’s nuclear regulatory agency toured two nuclear plants in southwest Michigan Friday.

NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane wanted to see how the plants are doing in the wake of the disaster at a nuclear plant in Japan. Congressman Fred Upton joined Macfarlane for the visits to the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant and the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, both of which are located in his district.

Nuclear regulators are requiring plants to upgrade equipment and emergency plans that take into account the meltdown of the Fukushima plant in 2011.

Palisades reactor from ouside
Mark Savage / Entergy Nuclear Operations

The Palisades power plant is proposing a new design that officials hope will help end a recurring problem.

The heat generated by its nuclear reactor is restrained in part by 45 control rods. The rod mechanisms at Palisades have an uncommon design (one of only two plants in the country) and have had a lot more problems than at other plants.

www.oseh.umich.edu/radiation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing a $3,500 fine against the University of Michigan Radiation Safety Service after a routine materials inspection turned up security-related violations.

The federal agency says the inspection conducted between last June and September looked at the use of licensed materials for medical applications, research and development.

Violations were found on the school's Ann Arbor campus.

The SIRWT tank on top of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant
Mark Savage / Entergy

Federal nuclear regulators say it’ll be several weeks before they can determine if Entergy, the company that owns the Palisades Nuclear Plant, violated any regulations during an incident in May when 80 gallons of slightly radioactive water leaked into Lake Michigan.

Related: Read this for a brief summary of all the problems at Palisades

The leak happened in May. Regulators say there was no threat to public safety, and the leak is now fixed.

When workers fixed the leaky tank they discovered the sand bed that was supposed to be supporting the tank was never installed. Palisades was built in 1968.

“If the causes (of there being no sand bed) were so long ago and it’s not indicative of recent performance then it’s assessed a little bit differently,” Jack Giessner said during a public forum held online Tuesday afternoon. Giessner is branch chief at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“It still may have some follow up needed but in general, it’s not like we’re going to try to interview people from 1968,” Giessner said.

Mark Savage / Entergy

Federal regulators will host a public meeting this week to recap the latest shutdown of the Palisades Nuclear Plant. The plant restarted about a month ago after fixing a water leak.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Palisades returns to service

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in southwestern Michigan re-opened yesterday after finishing repairs to a tank that leaked slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan. The plant has had nine shutdowns since September 2011; company spokeswoman Lindsay Rose says the tank has been redesigned to guard against future leaks. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there was no public health risk from the radioactive release.

Detroit's water department faces restructuring

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has big plans to restructure the city’s water department. It would largely keep the same governing structure, with representatives from Detroit and surrounding counties, but the authority would also pay Detroit to lease the department’s assets.

“Orr’s plan suggests that spinning the water department off to an authority would allow it refinance its debt, and borrow more readily for capital improvements,” Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek reports.

MSU law professor running for Michigan attorney general

Michigan State University law professor, Mark Totten, announced yesterday that he is running for Michigan attorney general in 2014. Totten, a Democrat, used to be a federal prosecutor. Democrats will choose their attorney general candidate at a nominating convention next year; no other Democratic candidates have entered the race yet. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette is expected to seek re-election.

Mark Savage / Entergy

It’s been more than a month since the Palisades Nuclear Plant near South Haven shut down after an unexpected release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan.

Nuclear watchdog groups are upset there was yet another leak into the plant’s control room last week.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Even though Palisades is temporarily shut down, the nuclear power plant last night held a public open house it had scheduled more than a month ago.

In a small conference center in South Haven Tuesday night, anti-nuclear activists mingled with federal nuclear regulators, residents, and plant workers. Palisades Site Vice President Tony Vitale says that's a good thing. He says the open house is designed for people in the community to come talk to some of the plant workers firsthand.

“We’re not hiding anything. We want to run, and will run, and I will demand we run a transparent operation,” Vitale said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Congressman Fred Upton (MI-06) will head to southwest Michigan this afternoon, to check out the condition of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.

The unplanned release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan earlier this month “outraged” the Republican congressman, who chairs the U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Every option must be on the table to ensure that the continuing leak will not occur again,” Upton said in a statement last week, suggesting that a full replacement of the leaky water tank may be in order.

Officials from the nuclear plant maintain that the leak will not harm the public or any of the plant’s 650 workers.

A commissioner from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be accompanying Upton on his tour today.

The congressman is expected to speak publicly after the visit.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith will be there and she'll bring us more later today.

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Congressman Fred Upton
Republican Conference / Creative Commons

A powerful voice in Washington is demanding a permanent fix to the leaky water tank at the Palisades Nuclear Plant.

Congressman Fred Upton says he’s “outraged” by the unplanned release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan over the weekend. Regulators say there is no risk to public safety.

Upton chairs the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over domestic nuclear regulatory activities.

The plant is in Congressman Upton’s district. Entergy, the company that owns the plant, was one of the top contributors to his election campaign last year.

Upton is demanding accountability and a permanent fix to the tank, which has leaked on and off for at least two years.

In a written statement, Upton says he plans to personally visit the site with a Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner.

“It is my understanding that the water tank will be emptied by the end of the week with the hope that the cause of the leak can be identified shortly thereafter.  Every option must be on the table – including a full replacement of the tank – to ensure that the continuing leak will not occur again,” Upton said.

Requests for an interview were not immediately returned.

New documents show Entergy had asked regulators for an alternative fix for the leaky tank on April 25th. Those documents assumed the leaks had stabilized.

“The current leak rate is stable without an increasing trend which suggests that the current through wall flaws have self-relieved the initiating stresses, are not growing, and remain well below the calculated allowable flaw length.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is investigating why the leak rate went from one gallon per day late last week to 90 gallons a day in one 24-hour period.

In the documents, Entergy requests an alternative fix for the tank “that would add a fiberglass-reinforced vinyl ester liner to the tank bottom and to a portion of the tank wall in lieu of identifying the location of the thru-wallleak(s) and performing code compliant repairs.”

Mark Savage / Entergy

Update 4:14 p.m.

“The most important thing to understand regarding this shutdown is the health and safety of our employees and the public has never been impacted by this issue,” said Terry Young, Vice President of Nuclear Communications for Entergy.

He confirms the unplanned release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan, but couldn’t say exactly how much.

“It’s really impossible to tell at this juncture what the length of this shutdown will be because we haven’t yet had a chance to identify what the issue is that we’re going to need to fix,” Young said.

This will be the third attempt to fix the leaky tank within the last year and a half.

“We have gone through pretty exhaustive measures on a couple of occasions to bring the plant offline and do just extensive testing and repairs and we’ll take a look at what’s causing the leak this time,” Young said.

I asked if it would make more sense to replace the tank instead.

“I really don’t know any background information on that in terms of what that would cost, I honestly couldn’t comment on that,” Young said.

Young notes the plant has had “a lot of success” at Palisades in the year and a half in “significantly improving performance.” The NRC recently upgraded the plant's safety rating after a series of problems in 2011 left it with one of the worst safety performance ratings in the country.

Last month Site Vice President Tony Vitale noted that a number of issues “have required repairs to be done with the plant offline and that’s unacceptable.” He says they’re reviewing their procedures to see if there’s something they should change.

“We’re diving into our programs and finding out why these issues are finding us instead of us finding them,” Vitale said in April.

“It is unfortunate that this is a recurrent issue that we are dealing with here,” Young said, “but our resolve is strong to fix this issue once and for all.”

Updated 1:11 p.m.

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimate 79 gallons of "slightly" radioactive water drained into Lake Michigan on Saturday.

NRC Spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says the agency doesn’t know exactly how radioactive the water was, but based on general knowledge of where the water came from, there is no risk to public safety.

“The unplanned release of this radioactive water is not something you want to have happen,” Mitlyng added.

The water came from a large water tank on the roof of the Palisades plant’s control room. It holds 300,000 gallons of water in case of emergencies or a planned refueling outage.

The plant is located in Covert Township, about 70 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

Union of Concerned Scientists

The director of the nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists is in Michigan to talk about the Palisades nuclear power plant.

David Lochbaum is critical of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in his latest report on nuclear safety released in March.

Lochbaum says the NRC should have fined Entergy, the company that owns Palisades, over a water leak last summer.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Entergy Corporation, the company that owns the Palisades nuclear power plant, says the plant is on the “road to recovery” after a series of safety problems.

Federal regulators recently upgraded the plant’s safety rating from one of the worst in the country after it passed a major inspection last fall.

Palisades Vice President Tony Vitale outlined the steps he and his staff took last year to improve human performance at the plant, one of the main reasons for the safety rating downgrade.

He says a recent, independent study of the safety culture shows the plan is paying off.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

This week Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood came to South Haven to tour the Palisades nuclear power plant in nearby Covert Township.

Magwood did not respond to requests to comment on how his tour went or why he chose to come.

He’s the second commissioner to visit the plant in less than a year. NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says that many high-level visits in such a short time is “not necessarily” uncommon.

“You can draw your own conclusions about that because I cannot do that for you,”Mitlyng said.

Kevin Kamps is with the anti-nuclear watchdog group Beyond Nuclear. Unlike the media, he and several others got a chance to sit down with Commissioner Magwood.

“There were some hints around the edges that it’s because of the problem plagued nature of Palisades and he even used the word disappointment for continued problems out there,” Kamps said.

2012 was a crazy year for the Palisades. Get a feel for it in our timeline on Palisades here.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

During an online public meeting Tuesday night, federal nuclear regulators reiterated their belief that the Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert, Michigan, near South Haven is safe.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted the meeting to talk with the public about the strength of the vessel that contains the nuclear reactor and fuel. Radiation, high pressure and temperatures over long periods of time make the metal vessels in all pressurized water reactors more vulnerable at nuclear plants.

Palisades is the oldest nuclear power plant in the state, and it’s got one of the most brittle reactor vessels in the country. Older nuclear plants like Palisades have some copper in the mostly steel vessel; later designs have stronger steel, regulators said.

Mark Kirk is a Senior Materials Engineer in the Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research at the NRC.

“It’s unquestionably true that Palisades, one of the welds in Palisades, is one of the most embrittled in all of the plants operating in the US,” Kirk said. “Even so, Palisades continues to operate in compliance with the relevant NRC rules.”

By 2017 the plant’s vessel will become too brittle to legally operate.

Palisades reactor from ouside
Mark Savage / Entergy Nuclear Operations

Nuclear regulators will discuss the risk of “pressurized thermal shock,” one of the biggest fears anti-nuclear groups have about the Palisades nuclear power plant during an online meeting Tuesday.

Over time the radiation, extreme pressure and heat from the nuclear reactor wear on the metal vessel that contains it. That’s called embrittlement.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Company officials who run the Palisades nuclear plant in southwest Michigan say they are improving the safety culture among workers that led to “significant” safety concerns last year. But at a meeting in South Haven Tuesday night, Palisades Site Vice President Tony Vitale said the plant has a “long way to go” to reach “operating excellence.”

Mark Savage / Entergy

Top federal nuclear regulators will be in South Haven early next month to discuss the Palisades nuclear power plant’s recent safety rating upgrade with the community.

Mark Savage / Entergy

On Friday Federal regulators upgraded the safety rating at the Palisades nuclear plant from one of the worst in the country to one of the best. That’s after Palisades passed a major inspection following a number of safety problems last year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the poor safety culture among workers at Palisades has improved. That culture was blamed for the biggest safety issue that happened in September 2011 when a worker caused an electrical short that resulted in half the control room indicators going dead.

Mark Savage / Entergy Corporation

The Palisades nuclear power plant is gradually returning to service after a brief shutdown this week.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates between 5 and 50 gallons of water leaked in the form of steam from a broken valve at Palisades. The slightly radioactive leak was contained and regulators say there was no risk to public safety.

On Sunday the plant shut down when workers discovered steam leaking from the valve. In a written statement, Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says the valve has been replaced.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Officials from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shared their preliminary results Friday of an emergency drill at Palisades earlier this week. During the two-day drill officials from the plant in Covert Township had to react to a simulated release of radiation into the environment. Agencies from several counties in Michigan and Indiana took part in the drill as well.

NRC Senior Emergency Preparedness Inspector Bob Jickling evaluated how the licensee, Entergy, responds.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Operators of the Palisades nuclear power plant did not do anything wrong during a water leak that shut the plant down in August. At least nothing that resulted in any “significant findings” according to a report recently released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NRC.gov

The federal agency that regulates nuclear power plants released more information on Monday about a leak over the summer at the Palisades plant near South Haven. The plant has one of the worst safety ratings in the US after a number of problems last year.

There have been at least three water leaks at Palisades in the past several months.

Mark Savage / Entergy

Documents released this week show a Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector based at Palisades discovered the leak during a routine inspection on September 20th.  

Palisades is under more scrutiny this year after a series of problems earned it one of the worst safety ratings in the country. This is at least the third water leak (depending on exactly how you tally them) at the nuclear plant this year. You can find more details about the first leak from a large water tank above the control room here, and the second water leak from the actual reactor here.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

Michigan Radio has been following the problems at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant for the last several years.

Our West Michigan reporter, Lindsey Smith, has been on top of all the leaks, shutdowns and visits from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There's been so much news of late, it can get a little confusing.

To clear up what's been happening at Michigan's oldest operating nuclear power plant, we created this timeline.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

A critical two week federal inspection of the Palisades nuclear power plant begins Monday.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors want to determine if Palisades’ owners have addressed problems that have raised questions about the nuclear plant’s “culture of safety”.

The problems have resulted in four unscheduled reactor shutdowns.

“It’s a very important inspection for us,” says Anthony Vitale, the plant’s site vice president,  “And it will give us a very good scrub as to where we are. We expect to come out of that with very good ratings.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The owners of the Palisades nuclear power plant promised last night to improve their “culture of safety."   

But dozens of people at the public meeting doubted that promise.   Catherine Sugas spoke for many people who attended the meeting when she questioned why the problem plagued nuclear power plant is still operating.

“If you can’t shut down a plant that’s dangerous…what are you?    How can you keep a plant going that’s obviously dangerous,” Sugas asked a panel from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The safety of west Michigan’s Palisades nuclear power plant will be the topic of a public meeting tonight in South Haven.

Palisades has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.

Maintenance mistakes and other problems led to four unscheduled reactor shutdowns at Palisades in 2011.  And there have been more problems this year.

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