WASHINGTON – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has cited Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant for a safety violation of “substantial importance,” for improperly maintaining a backup water pump to the plant’s steam generators.
The “yellow” level violation was assessed this summer after the pump, which has since been repaired, failed a routine test the company performed at the Lusby plant in May.
Calvert Cliffs officials did not contest what they acknowledged was a “significant finding” by the NRC. But they also noted that the pump that failed was one of three auxiliary pumps, any of which could have done the job alone.
The company’s quick reporting and correction of the problem demonstrates the effectiveness of its plant equipment testing programs, said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for Constellation Energy Group, which owns Calvert Cliffs.
Critics of the plant — which last year became the first nuclear power plant in the nation to win renewal of its operating license — were not so sure.
“This is nothing new. There’s a whole history of mismanagement of various kinds at the Calvert Cliffs facility,” said Frank Fox, a Sierra Club member who lives in neighboring St. Mary’s County.
“I continue to be concerned about this aging nuclear power facility,” Fox said. “We’ll see increased problems as a result of the deterioration of the plant.”
The NRC inspected the facility this summer after an auxiliary feedwater pump failed during a May 16 test. The pump pushes water into the plant’s steam generators when the normal water supply is not available.
The pump failed, the NRC said, because workers did not follow its maintenance instructions, applying too much sealant to the shield that houses the pump’s ball bearings. The excess sealant contaminated the bearing’s oil, causing the bearing to fail.
“One of the equipment’s functions is to remove heat when the plant is shut down,” said Diane Screnci, an NRC spokeswoman. “It wouldn’t necessarily have worked if called upon.”
Neddenien cited ambiguous maintenance instrucctions in the pump’s failure, saying that guidelines “didn’t give clear and understandable instructions. They were subject to interpretation.”
The bearing was quickly replaced and the pump passed a subsequent test.
Calvert County Administrator Joe Allman agreed with Neddenien that the NRC citation shows that the system works.
“We don’t think it’s a significant safety risk,” he said. “Both the company and the NRC are being vigilant and duly diligent in their jobs. It shows that they work in cooperation with each other.”
The company must explain to the commission how it plans to prevent a reoccurrence of the problem within 30 days, Screnci said.
“You need to determine the root cause of something to be sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “You have to figure out what happened, why it happened, and explain what you’ll do to prevent it from happening again.”
The commission will make other inspections, but no schedule has been set.
The NRC uses a color-coding system to rate the significance of what it finds in its inspections. Red findings have the highest significance, while yellow have substantial safety significance. White findings have low to moderate importance, but may require additional inspection, while green findings are the least significant.