After a series of problems, the operators of the only nuclear power plant in Kansas say they're making progress toward satisfying the concerns of federal regulators.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), says Wolf Creek operated safely in 2012, but its performance was rated as “degraded”. Out of 104 nuclear plants nationwide, Wolf Creek is one of only four currently listed as “degraded” or worse. That rating is due in large part to a transformer failure that caused the reactor to be shut down for more than two months last year. The NRC says that could have been prevented had Wolf Creek properly supervised the private contractors hired to work on that transformer.
Wolf Creek President and CEO Matt Sunseri says new contractor oversight provisions have been implemented.
“They cannot go past that step without having an inspection, or some level of oversight to verify that the quality of their work up to that point is meeting our standards,” says Sunseri. “Then we’ll let them finish their work on to the next step, at which we’ll stop and review, and then so on, until they get complete.”
Sunseri says equipment is also being upgraded to improve the safety of the plant. More than five miles of underground pipe that carry cooling water from a nearby lake has deteriorated. He says it will all be replaced by next February.
“What we intend to do is install all that pipe underground while the plant is operating, and then in the outage in February of 2014 we’re going to connect that pipe up to the plant."
The company has also invested in an additional cooling water pump, more diesel generators for back-up power, and updated control systems—all to improve the safety of the plant.
The NRC’s Kriss Kennedy toured the plant before a public meeting.
“They’re doing a lot of work at Wolf Creek,” says Kennedy. “Some of the work is to repair equipment that has been degrading, and some of it is to actually increase the margin of safety at the plant. There’s a lot of work going on out at the site.”
Kennedy calls those improvements “encouraging."
As soon as Sunseri is ready—tentatively in June—Kennedy will send a team of seven or eight inspectors to Wolf Creek for a thorough review.
“I want to see plans to address their equipment issues, and I think I saw some good signs today that they’re actually taking actions," says Kennedy. “And I want to see some signs that they’re improving the safety culture at the plant.”
Sunseri vows to pass that inspection with flying colors, so Wolf Creek can return to the normal level of NRC oversight.