Friday, April 16, 2004

Perry nuclear power plant flagged for minor violations

The Associated Press

PAINESVILLE, Ohio - First-Energy Corp.'s Perry nuclear power plant operated safely throughout most of last year, but some minor problems warrant a closer look from federal regulators, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

In its annual assessment of Perry's operations, the NRC cited First Energy for three violations, which the commission described as having "low to moderate safety significance."

There were another 18 "noncited" minor violations for failing to follow either federal rules or plant procedures in performing routine maintenance.

The NRC said that it's sending two teams of inspectors to follow up on the problems. One violation said the reactor's operators failed to quickly alert the community when radioactive gas from a damaged spent fuel rod escaped into a building last April.

Operators have 15 minutes but took nearly an hour to declare the alert, said Perry plant spokesman Joe Mosbrook.

"Our operators were concentrating on evacuating the building," he said, "as a precautionary measure."

When they did issue the alert, the potential danger was over, and the alert was withdrawn, he said. No radioactive gas escaped into the environment.

Operators have had more training for emergencies, and procedures have been changed to more clearly define who has the responsibility to communicate emergency plans, Mosbrook said.

The second citation was for an emergency cooling pump that failed during routine testing last September. The pump had been rebuilt in 1997 and was put back together incorrectly, the NRC determined.

The third citation involved a high-pressure reactor core spray pump that failed to start during a routine check in October 2002 because plant workers had not followed written procedures while doing periodic maintenance beginning in 1994.

Employees also had improperly aligned circuit breakers in the pump's switch. That led to the fouling of the electrical connection.

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