Constellation Energy, which operates the Nine Mile plants in Oswego county, has confirmed that the company has received a preliminary notification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the plant is being cited for a safety violation. Last April, one Nine Mile plant's cooling system lost power. Constellation spokesperson Jill Lyon says the incident was handled properly and that precautions were taken, including having an adequate water supply on hand if it had been needed. Lyon says the NRC notification says that the plant faces a violation that is "higher than a Green" level violation. 

The following diagram (followed by a narrative description) is a graphical representation of the NRC's graded approach for processing violations:

Diagram of NRC Enforcement Process

The NRC first assesses the significance of a violation by considering (1) actual safety consequences; (2) potential safety consequences; (3) potential for impacting the NRC's ability to perform its regulatory function; and (4) any willful aspects of the violation. Violations are either assigned a severity level, ranging from Severity Level I for the most significant to Severity Level IV for those of more than minor concern or are associated with issues assessed through the reactor oversight process's Significance Determination Process (SDP) that are assigned a color of green, white, yellow, or red based on the risk significance. Although minor violations must be corrected, given their limited risk significance, they are not subject to enforcement action and are not normally described in inspection reports.

Severity Level IV violations and violations related to green SDP findings are addressed within the non-escalated enforcement process and may either be cited in formal Notices of Violation (NOVs) pursuant to 10 CFR 2.201 (which normally requires written responses) or treated as Non-Cited Violations (NCVs) (which are documented in inspection reports but do not require written responses).

  • For power reactor licensees, an NCV will normally be issued unless (1) the licensee failed to restore compliance, (2) the licensee failed to place the violation in its corrective action program, (3) the violation was repetitive and NRC-identified, or (4) the violation was willful. (Violations evaluated through the SDP are not subject to the third criterion.)

 

  • For all other licensees, the decision of whether an NOV or NCV will be issued depends on whether (1) the licensee failed to identify the violation, (2) the licensee failed to correct the violation, (3) the violation was repetitive, or (4) the violation was willful.

Severity Level I, II, and III violations and violations related to white, yellow, or red SDP findings with actual consequences are addressed within the escalated enforcement process and are cited in NOVs and may be subject to civil penalties. The NRC imposes different levels of civil penalties based on a combination of the type of licensed activity, the type of licensee, the severity level of the violation, and (1) whether the licensee has had any previous escalated enforcement action (regardless of the activity area) during the past two years or past two inspections, whichever is longer; (2) whether the licensee should be given credit for actions related to identification; (3) whether the licensee's corrective actions are prompt and comprehensive; and (4) whether, in view of all the circumstances, the matter in question requires the exercise of discretion.

Violations related to white, yellow, or red SDP findings are also addressed within the escalated enforcement process and are cited in NOVs. Severity levels are not normally assigned and civil penalties are not normally imposed for these violations.

In recognition that the regulation of nuclear activities in many cases does not lend itself to a mechanistic treatment, the enforcement process provides flexibility through judgment and the ability to exercise discretion to tailor sanctions to the particular circumstances of an individual case, notwithstanding the outcome of the normal process.

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New Release from Nuclear Information and Resource Service

Alliance for a Green Economy and Nuclear Information and Resource Service received notice that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is preparing to cite the operator of the Nine Mile Point nuclear station for safety violations in relation to a near-miss accident on April 16, 2013. The event was loss of power to shutdown cooling systems, during which the reactor was within two hours from boiling and releasing radioactive steam into the reactor building.

See: NRC Final NM1 Loss of SDC Choice Letter (Sept. 23)
Slideshow by David Lochbaum: April 16, 2013 Nine Mile Point Unit 1 Event


Details: Constellation operators lost all power to the shutdown cooling systems for over 30 minutes, at the beginning of the refueling outage. Operators were preparing to defuel the reactor, and had opened containment seals and disconnected steam vent to the reactor vessel, effectively removing all barriers to a radiation release and disabling one of the essential backup cooling systems. Constellation had not removed the reactor vessel head, and all of the fuel was still in the reactor.  

The incident happened just two days after shutdown for refueling, so the fuel in the reactor was still at its hottest, and the water in the vessel heated up by 27 degrees in a half-hour.  NRC estimates the reactor would have begun boiling within 110 minutes -- or less than 80 minutes from when Constellation workers managed to get the pumps working again – thereby spewing steam into the building that houses the reactor and many of its key safety systems.

NRC says it would have taken about 9 hours before the water boiled down to where the fuel was exposed, which could have led to a meltdown.  (NRC letter, page A-2)

The NRC notice also cites a major concern over the lack of time to evacuate the public in the vicinity, due to the fast-breaking nature of the radiation release that could have occurred.  With the reactor vessel and containment both open, there were no barriers to the release of radiation, and local residents might not have gotten enough notice to leave the area before they were exposed.

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