'Unacceptable' mistakes made

Control room operators' mishandling of an unplanned power spike at the Millstone Unit 2 reactor in February was "inexcusable and completely unacceptable," Site Vice President Skip Jordan told federal regulators on Tuesday.

On Feb. 12, a reactor operator at Unit 2 caused an 8 percent increase in power during main turbine control valve testing that the control room crew failed to prevent from escalating as soon as it should have. While the reactor operated within acceptable power limits, the crew's first response was not thorough and timely, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found in a May 27 report.

At a regulatory conference Tuesday held in King of Prussia, Pa., the NRC's Region 1 officials discussed the matter with Millstone owner Dominion. The public was allowed to listen in remotely and ask the NRC questions at the end of the conference.

"It is our top priority: nuclear, industrial and radiological safety," Jordan told NRC regional administrator Bill Dean and report author Samuel L. Hansell, chief of the operations branch of NRC's division of reactor safety.

"It's not just what we do, it's who we are," Jordan said. "We did not uphold the standards of excellence we expect from ourselves and the public expects from us."

Bill McCollum, the unit supervisor and one of the managers on duty that day, also took responsibility for the lapses. A veteran with 36 years in the industry, he said he was working closely with an operator and another employee but "was woefully out of communication with the rest of the team."

"Our performance that day was not who we are, was not who I am," he said. "That day, I let myself down, my team down, and my company down. And I am here to assure you I will not have a similar lapse of standards again nor will I witness a similar lapse."

The NRC's detailed inspection report calls for a preliminary "white" finding, meaning the problem was of "low to moderate safety significance," but could lead to additional NRC oversight.

Ken Grover, Millstone's operations manager, said the company failed to "manage individual performance as it related to crew performance."

Region 1 officials told Dominion the apparent failure of operators to carry out their assigned roles reflected a "lack of focus" and "degradation of fundamentals."

"Communication is a big part of this," said Hansell. "The rest of the crew didn't know at the time somebody was bumping up that power. And that's a major contributor: not getting people involved, giving them a chance to question what was going on."

Hansell and Dean also found fault with Dominion for not coming up with so-called procedural "guidance" for two weeks following the incident, although Jordan and other Dominion employees said the company did provide "standing orders" until they could be sure the new guidance was accurate and acceptable.

Dominion had guidance in place for an increase in power during normal start-up procedures, but not for unexpected "transient" power increases, Hansell and Dean said.

Jeff Semancik, the Unit 2 plant manager, asserted during the two-hour conference that the company was "prompt, aggressive and self-critical" in the days following the power spike. Besides getting help from the rest of Dominion's nuclear fleet and other operators, Semancik said he helped take control of the situation. "I was within the control rooms within two hours of the event," he said. "I convened a response team to conduct an independent, self-critical analysis of that event."

Jordan had said at the start of the meeting that he didn't "share the view" of a lack of timeliness in responding to the incident. The NRC officials later backed away from that criticism, and praised the company's formal analysis.

An NRC decision on whether to order extra oversight is due by Aug. 18.

p.daddona@theday.com

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