Millstone reactor may incur special NRC oversight

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing extra federal oversight for the Unit 2 reactor at Millstone Power Station in Waterford this year following a mishandled accidental increase in power that occurred four months ago.

Earlier this week, Millstone owner Dominion received a favorable review from the NRC regarding its 2010 annual assessment. In that analysis, the NRC found 14 minor issues to be of low safety significance and proposed routine inspections for the coming year.

On Feb. 12 of this year, however, a reactor operator at Unit 2 caused an increase in power that his control room crew failed to prevent from escalating to an 8 percent increase before getting the matter under control.

The incident did not pose safety concerns because the power increase never exceeded required limits and did not result in damaged fuel.

But according to the detailed findings of the NRC special inspection team released Friday, "inefficient reinforcement of Dominion standards and expectations" caused the problems.

"The performance deficiency," the team's analysis states, "was the failure of Millstone personnel to carry out their assigned roles and responsibilities and poor reactivity management during main turbine control valve testing, which contributed to the unanticipated reactor power increase."

The situation, the report adds, "could be viewed as a precursor to a significant event."

The inspection team also notes that Dominion's own analysis of the situation, known as a "root cause evaluation," was thorough.

"Clearly there was not the level of rigor that should be there when it comes to attention to detail and there appears to be some confusion about what the appropriate actions were," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC. "It gets back to operator training. These are fundamental maneuvers that they would learn during training."

After the incident, the company removed the seven employees from duty temporarily and put them through remediation, additional training and reviews, said Dominion spokesman Ken Holt.

"Personnel qualifications are being re-established on a case by case basis for each individual," he said.

Dominion has 10 days to opt for either a public meeting or present a written report to present its perspective on the NRC inspection team's findings and analysis, or do nothing. After that, if the NRC decides to conduct additional oversight, the so-called "white" finding would be kept open for at least a year while the NRC examined the program put into place to address the issues, Sheehan said.

The company is reviewing the report and has not decided whether to contest or elaborate on the findings.

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