WASHINGTON – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave two thumbs up to the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant this week in unrelated safety reports on the facility.
On Wednesday, the NRC reported that “overall performance at Calvert Cliffs was acceptable” from April 1998 to January of this year, according to a Feb. 23 inspection of the plant’s records.
And at a meeting scheduled Thursday night at the plant in Lusby, the NRC said Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. had effectively structured the maintenance and monitoring plan it is required to submit as part of its application to renew the license for its nuclear generators.
The report presented Thursday was the first of three safety inspections Calvert Cliffs will have to undergo for its relicensing.
While environmental groups were disappointed, they said they were not surprised that the NRC had given the plant a clean bill of health.
“I think they only have one category,” said James Riccio of Public Citizen. “I’m not surprised the NRC found Calvert Cliffs ‘acceptable.'”
The Feb. 23 inspection was part of a semiannual monitoring program that the NRC is using while it revamps its scheduled nuclear power plant inspection system.
That inspection found that Calvert Cliffs’ two reactors operated at full power from April to January, except for a brief July 1998 shutdown of one reactor to repair a steam leak. The NRC also found that the plant had improved its radiation protection programs.
“It’s an acknowledgement by the NRC of the improvements and how we’ve turned around that (radiation safety) program,” said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for plant owner BG&E. “From a public confidence standpoint, any time regulators come in and show they (plant workers) are doing a good job it makes the public comfortable.”
In its previous inspection, covering October 1996 to April 1998, the NRC criticized Calvert Cliff’s radiation-worker safety program, Neddenien said. He said that a worker had been exposed to a “higher than planned” level of radiation during the previous inspection period, but that the levels were “well below federal and plant safety levels.”
The report presented Thursday night focused on safety plans and procedures as part of Calvert Cliffs’ request to have its license renewed.
Last spring, Calvert Cliffs became the first nuclear plant in the country to apply for a 20-year extension of its license under newly streamlined NRC relicensing regulations.
Under the old relicensing procedures, Calvert Cliffs would have faced physical inspections of reactor components for aging, such as brittle metal in the reactor walls.
But under regulations the NRC developed in the mid-1990s, nuclear power plants are now only required to demonstrate that they have an effective, albeit expanded, maintenance program, which the NRC spot-checks. The NRC gave a preliminary OK to those plans in the report presented Thursday.
The next safety inspection under the license renewal program, which involves spot-check inspections of the BG&E maintenance program, is currently under way and will end Friday, said BG&E spokesman Chuck Rayburn.
The biennial shutdown of one of the plant’s reactors has allowed NRC scientists to visually inspect the concrete containment walls and oversee ultrasound structural tests of them, among other tests.
Rayburn said that while the license renewal inspection is important, the semi-annual report announced Wednesday is just as important.
“If we don’t get a good report card annually we jeopardize our future operations,” with or without an extension, he said.