Investigation shows event at Palisades Nuclear Plant was of "substantial safety significance"

Nov 30, 2011

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a week-long shut-down of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in September was of "substantial safety significance." The plant is located in South Haven about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

The plant was offline because of an electrical outage at the plant. The N.R.C. investigation shows the outage happened because a worker didn’t follow proper procedures when he was doing routine maintenance.  

N.R.C. spokeswoman Victoria Midlyng says the procedures the worker was supposed to follow were improper anyway. And she says managers at the plant had given that worker the green light to do things differently.

"Nobody took the time to really focus on the safety significance of this activity," Midlyng said, "Nobody stopped in their tracks and said 'hey, what are we doing here? We need to rethink this.'"

The findings are preliminary. That means the company will get a chance to respond or dispute the investigation before it’s finalized.

A spokesman for Entergy, the company that owns and operates the plant says they haven't decided on the response to N.R.C. yet. He did issue this written statement.

Entergy Palisades has cooperated fully with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors during their site inspections and shared information gathered during its own internal investigations.

An Entergy Corporate Event Response Team (CERT) was sent to Palisades following the Sept. 25 event to conduct its own independent investigation and evaluation. 

Information gathered during that corporate investigation was also shared with the agency.

Entergy Palisades has taken aggressive action internal to the organization to 1) refocus all site employees on standards and expectations, 2) strictly adhere to procedures and work instructions, and 3) use the appropriate human performance tools applicable for the task or activity.

Midlyng says at this time there is no reason for people to be worried about their safety. “There are issues that the plant is going to have to address," she says "But it is operating safely and if the NRC didn’t have confidence the plant was operating safely we would shut it down.”

If the findings are finalized, Palisades would be one of only three nuclear plants in the country with a "yellow" finding of "substantial safety significance". The N.R.C. rates safety concerns in four categories; green, white, yellow and red, with red being the most serious.