River Bend nuclear plant operating with normal oversight

The River Bend nuclear power plant is operating with a normal level of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight this year, based on last year’s overall satisfactory safety performance, an NRC official said Tuesday.

At the end of 2012, all of River Bend’s performance indicators and inspection findings were “green,” or of very low risk.

The NRC uses color-coded inspection findings and performance indicators. The colors start with green and increase to white, yellow or red, depending on the safety significance.

During the second quarter of 2012, the NRC conducted additional inspections after the plant experienced what the agency calls “scrams with complications,” or automatic or manual shutdowns of the reactor that result in additional problems.

The NRC determined that the performance indicator crossed the green-white threshold, but the indicator returned to green in the fourth quarter of the year.

Grant Larkins, senior NRC resident inspector at River Bend, said the complications involved fluctuations in the water level inside the reactor.

An NRC inspector from the Cooper Nuclear Station in Nebraska joined River Bend’s resident inspectors to study the fluctuations, and the team identified problems with the instrumentation, Larkins said.

“We had some good learning out of that,” said Eric Olson, River Bend site vice president for Entergy Operations Inc.

“We put a lot of effort into equipment reliability, and we’re seeing improvements,” Olson said.

The NRC issued an assessment letter to Entergy in March after reviewing the year’s performance. The letter also describes the type of inspections the agency planned for 2013.

The agency conducts meetings annually to discuss its safety reviews for each operating nuclear plant, but no one from the general public attended the meeting held for River Bend at the St. Francisville Town Hall on Tuesday.