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Nuclear Plant Operator Faces Fine State’s Only Commercial Reactor Cited For Violating Control Room Procedures

SATURDAY, MAY 20, 1995

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a $50,000 fine for operators of the state’s only commercial nuclear reactor for violating control room requirements.

The Washington Public Power Supply System, which operates the No. 2 reactor, has 30 days to pay or protest the civil fine.

“We have no disagreement with the findings of the NRC,” Supply System spokesman George Tupper said Friday. “We agree with what they found and their conclusion.”

The reactor operators plan to conduct an investigation into the “root causes” of the incidents before responding to the NRC, he said.

The alleged violations of NRC requirements occurred in the plant’s control room from March to November 1994 and were discovered during a Jan. 23-Feb. 15 inspection.

L. Joe Callahan, the NRC’s administrator for Region IV, notified WPPSS officials of the proposed fine in a letter received Thursday by J.V. Parrish, WPPSS vice president of nuclear operations.

“The violations were found to be safety-significant because they represent a breakdown in the control of licensed activities associated with the control room emergency filtration system,” Callahan wrote.

The violations were classified Level III, considered to be the least serious in terms of safety. No radiation was released, nor were any plant employees harmed by the incidents.

WPPSS officials have taken steps to correct the conditions that led to the violations, Callahan noted, including training of control room operators and maintenance workers, tightened trouble-shooting procedures and hired an outside contractor to evaluate the causes of the missteps.

WPPSS is required to respond to the NRC by either admitting or denying the violations occurred, listing corrective actions taken and steps to prevent a recurrence in the future.

The NRC contends there were at least three violations of NRC requirements, all involving disabling of the control room’s emergency air filtration system.

The incidents were the first of several lapses that raised NRC concerns about the reactor’s control room “culture.”

WPPSS officials had just returned in April from an NRC enforcement conference on the previous incidents when a control room supervisor went against policy and opened a cooling water valve that was supposed to remain shut.

That incident prompted a special NRC investigation.

The control room supervisor and a shift supervisor were subsequently fired.

The NRC team “saw no generic problems with our program” and no additional enforcement actions are anticipated, Tupper said.

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