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Pilgrim Watch challenges electrical cable plan [2011-02-18]

The Pilgrim Watch citizens group has filed a new contention in the process to relicense Pilgrim Station Nuclear Power Plant

Pilgrim Watch founder Mary Lampert said the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions decision to issue a notice Dec. 2 on underground electrical cable failures at nuclear power plants opened the door to the filing of a new safety-related contention, although the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a panel of three judges assigned to the Pilgrim relicensing, has not decided if the contention will be accepted.

Pilgrim Watch contends that the submerged electrical cables at Pilgrim are inadequate in light of the moist environmental conditions underground at the nuclear power plant.They should not have unqualified cables buried at Pilgrim, she said.

If an accident occurs, she said, electrical power is required to prevent a reactor meltdown with major radioactive releases to the environment. The aging management plan for these cables, she said, must be scrutinized.

Failure to address this issue before license renewal is granted could result in significant harm to the health and safety of the public, she explained.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the issue of submerged electrical cables is one that has been raised in several license renewal proceedings, including Vermont Yankee and Seabrook, N.H. As in those other cases, the three-judge ASLB panel handling the Pilgrim license renewal proceeding will need to decide whether this latest contention is admissible.

There are strict guidelines on when a late-filed contention can be accepted,he said.
Lampert said the fundamental issue is lack of compliance with NRC regulations and inaction by the NRC.
The NRC is not stepping up, so our only recourse is to go to the ASLB to present testimony and for greater assurance of safety, she said.

While the judges handling the Seabrook license renewal proceeding haven't ruled on whether that contention or others will be admitted, Sheehan said the ASLB panel assigned to the Vermont Yankee license renewal proceeding in late October denied a similar late-filed contention filed by the New England Coalition.

That contention dealt with NECs assertion that Entergy did not have an adequate aging management program in place to deal with the effects of moist or wet environments on buried, below-grade, underground or hard-to reach safety-related electrical cables. The submittal cited an NRC inspection finding from last May that dealt with this issue.

The Vermont Yankee ASLB panel based its denial on three criteria.

The first was that the motion was not timely because the issue of submergence of electrical cables at nuclear power plants has been known for years and could have been questioned long ago. The second was that the motion does not address a significant safety or environmental issue, and third was that NEC was unable to demonstrate that a materially different result would be or would have been ?likely? had the newly proferred evidence been considered initially.

Sheehan said the issue of submerged electrical cables at nuclear power plants is one the NRC has been engaged in for many years. Along those lines, he said, the NRC issued the information notice Dec. 2 to all nuclear power plant operators. In 2007, the NRC issued a generic letter to operators asking that they gather information on inaccessible or underground power cable failures for all cables within the scope of the NRCs Maintenance Rule. Based on its review of the responses, the staff identified 269 cable failures.

As the Dec. 2 notice states, These failure data indicated an increasing trend in underground cable failures, and the predominant contributing factor was submergence or moisture intrusion that degraded the insulation Some of the cable failures have resulted in plant transients and shutdowns, loss of safety redundancy, entries into limiting conditions for operation, and challenges to plant operators.

Pilgrim Watch has succeeded in securing a hearing on its contention that Entergys aging management plan for buried pipes and tanks at Pilgrim is inadequate.