NRC Adds 8 Nuclear Plants to Watch ListH. JOSEF HEBERT , Associated Press
Feb. 5, 1992 6:48 PM ET
ROCKVILLE, MD. ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited eight commercial reactors, including four in Illinois operated by Commonwealth Edison, for special surveillance Wednesday because of safety and management concerns.
The agency said the twin reactors at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland were being taken off the ''close watch'' list because of significant safety improvements over the last six months.
Calvert Cliffs, operated by the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., has been subject to added surveillance by the NRC since December 1988.
Commonwealth Edison was the target of sharp criticism from the NRC staff as well as from several commissioners for failing to resolve management and operational problems at four of its 12 reactors.
The NRC said that the utility's two reactors at its Zion nuclear plant north of Chicago, added to the close-surveillance list a year ago, would remain on the list and that two other reactors at the Dresden plant near Morris, Ill., would be added.
The agency added for closer oversight the James FitzPatrick nuclear power plant near Oswego, N.Y., after many operational and management problems were discovered last year.
The FitzPatrick reactor, operated by the New York Power Authority, had been considered ''a better than average performer'' until a closer evaluation uncovered worrisome shortcomings, said NRC chairman Ivan Selin.
NRC inspectors said the New York plant ''had been in decline for over a year.''
Ralph Beedle, the New York utility's executive vice president for nuclear generation, said a program to make necessary operational and management improvements to get the facility off the list already is underway.
''We want to make FitzPatrick one of the best-run nuclear plants in the country,'' Beedle said in a statement.
The continuing problems found by federal inspectors at Commonwealth Edison's Dresden plant particularly rankled the NRC officials because the plant had been targeted for special surveillance in 1987, achieved improvements and then was taken off the list in 1988.
''Dresden's performance has declined in the last year,'' Bert Davis, the NRC's regional director from Chicago, told the commissioners. He said some 40 unusual events and errors had been documented at the Dresden reactors revealing ''fundamental performance deficiencies.''
Selin noted that the Illinois utility has had plants on the ''close watch'' list almost consistently since the special reviews began in 1986. He and Commissioner James Curtiss questioned whether the utility is capable of assuring that all its 12 plants meet NRC expectations.
Told that Edison plans to move a key manager from the Zion plant, where he had achieved some improvements, to Dresden, Selin asked, ''Do we have any confidence that we won't have a relapse at Zion?''
Bide Thomas, president of Commonwealth Edison, said he was ''disappointed'' at the NRC's findings and chagrined at some of Selin's characterizations. He rejected suggestions that the utility may not be able to bring all its plants up to NRC expectations and that the company had paid inadequate attention to some reactors.
He blamed part of the problem on the fact that Dresden and Zion are among the utility's oldest plants, but ''are expected to be like the new plants.''
''It takes a while to get there,'' he continued in an interview. ''...It's obvious that there's more that needs to be done.''
The other reactors on the ''close watch'' list are the three Browns Ferry units operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority near Athens, Ala., including Unit 2, which resumed operation last year after a lengthy shutdown. The other two units are not operating.
Stewart Ebneter, NRC's regional administer with jurisdiction over Browns Ferry, said the restart of Unit 2 had been ''smooth and relatively uneventful'' and had ''exceeded my expectations.'' The TVA reactors were shut down in the mid-1980 because of widespread safety problems and have been on the special surveillance list since 1986.