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U.S.' eye stays on state nuclear plant

by David Smith | March 25, 2017 at 2:02 a.m.

RUSSELLVILLE -- Entergy continues to face challenges in the operation of its Arkansas Nuclear One generating plant almost four years after a worker was killed and eight others were injured in an accident.

On March 31, 2013, the mishandling of a 1 million-pound generator stator caused it to fall 30 feet while it was being moved, which dislodged beams, and one struck and killed worker Wade Walters, 24.

In 2015, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission moved the Arkansas nuclear plant to the column four category of the commission's rating of overall plant performance. Plants in column five aren't permitted to operate.

The plant has had problems with equipment and preventable human errors, representatives of the commission said at a public hearing Thursday night to address the plant's 2016 performance.

About 60 people attended the meeting at a conference room on the plant's campus near Russellville. No one from the audience asked questions after the 75-minute meeting.

In September, there was a failure to ensure that a bearing for an emergency diesel generator had adequate lubrication. In a 24-hour endurance test the bearing overheated and caused the generator to fail.

The reason for the failure was that the bearing had been installed upside down, said Brian Tindell, the commission's senior resident inspector at the plant.

"The extent of damage from the failure led to the decision to shut down [nuclear reactor] Unit 2 to comply with technical specifications," Kriss Kennedy, the commission's regional administrator, said in a letter last month to Rich Anderson, site vice president at Arkansas Nuclear One.

The incident was characterized by the commission as a low to moderate safety significance, Kennedy said in the letter.

The plant, though, continues to be operated safely, Tindell said.

"[Entergy] is taking substantial actions to restore safety margins," Tindell said. "However, there is still a lot of work to be done."

The regulatory commission has seen improvements at the plant, Victor Dricks, spokesman for the commission, said in an interview before the meeting.

"We've seen some improvements in accountability," Dricks said. "Decision-making is better than we had seen previously. We've seen improvements in corrective action programs."

But progress has been slow, Dricks admitted.

"And there are areas where they are going to need to improve further, like reduce the backlogs of work, maintenance issues and engineering documentation and corrective actions," Dricks said.

Arkansas Nuclear One is subject to the commission's highest level of scrutiny. Last year, the commission conducted more than 10,000 hours of inspections, Tindell said. That's compared to about 3,500 hours of inspection at a nuclear plant in column one, the commission's highest safety level, Tindell said.

Entergy hired Anderson, 59, in September as site vice president. He has worked at a handful of nuclear plants in his career, including being site vice president at several.

Entergy is making improvements, but "we're still not where we want to be," Anderson said.

"We also understand that the culture and the behaviors are key to establishing and sustaining the desired performance," Anderson said. "We do get the message. We understand [the commission's] message tonight on the need for continued improvement."

Entergy has realized that the plant is understaffed, and 44 additional employees have been hired, Anderson said.

Dricks said that the commission will continue to maintain enhanced oversight of the facility.

"We'll be conducting a supplemental inspection later this year after [Entergy] identifies that they are ready for us to come and look at the corrective actions they've taken in connection with this specific event," Dricks said, referring to the 2013 accident. "But overall our view is that the plant is being operated safely. We feel they are on the right track."

If all requirements are followed and no other violations are discovered, Entergy could be out of column four by early 2019, Kennedy said.

"It's not easy to operate one of these plants," Kennedy said at the meeting. "It's a long process [to work out of column four]."

Business on 03/25/2017

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