Millstone Unit 2 power surge error draws additional federal scrutiny

Waterford - The Unit 2 reactor at Millstone Power Station will receive extra federal oversight for up to a year following a mishandled power increase that occurred more than five months ago.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will scrutinize employee performance and supervision at the Dominion-owned reactor and ultimately conduct an inspection before returning to normal oversight methods.

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

"While the NRC did not identify any impacts on plant safety due to the Feb. 12th event, the agency holds control room operators to the highest standards," NRC Region I Administrator Bill Dean said in a statement.

"This inspection finding signals the need for plant personnel to step back and learn from this event in order to prevent it from occurring again," he said.

The incident did not pose safety concerns because the power increase never exceeded required limits and did not result in damaged fuel. But it is being treated as one of low-to-moderate safety significance, a so-called "white" finding that requires more scrutiny than normal from NRC inspectors.

Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said the company has completed a thorough analysis, known as a root cause analysis, of the problems that day and has incorporated lessons learned into how operators handle critical equipment readings in the control room in order to eliminate the potential for human error.

"We remain extremely disappointed with our performance during this event," Holt said. "Nuclear safety is our top priority. We have learned from this event and have taken actions to ensure we don't repeat it."

To address the problem, Dominion also brought in experts from the Virginia-based power company's nuclear fleet as well as experts from the industry, Holt said.

Federal oversight typically lasts a year, but if the inspection that follows Dominion's own root cause analysis is not satisfactory, oversight could be extended, said NRC Region 1 Spokesman Neil Sheehan.

"The focus is going to be on the control room because that's where the issues arose, but it's broader than that. It's training, supervision and other elements of operator performance," Sheehan said.

p.daddona@theday.com

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