NRC: Safer, but culture flaws linger at Palisades

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — Federal regulators say that Palisades nuclear plant operators have improved their safety performance, but work culture problems persist at the Lake Michigan shoreline facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting Thursday night to discuss a safety assessment of the southeastern Michigan plant. The meeting was in South Haven, about 5 miles from the plant in Van Buren County’s Covert Township.

“We’ve seen improved performance at Palisades, and through our extra inspection effort, we are even more confident that that is so,” NRC Regional Administrator Cynthia Pederson said.

New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. owns the plant, which has had numerous shutdowns in recent years. Things were so bad at Palisades a few years ago that the NRC forced the company into a corrective action plan and then took an even harder look at whether those corrections were working.

“They have been effective,” Pederson said. “We have not seen any repeats of significant performance issues.”

One big problem was workers’ attitude about safety and whether employees felt comfortable reporting safety concerns to higher-ups or feared they would get in trouble for doing so. Pederson said people at the bottom of the command structure must feel free to report issues.

Palisades and the NRC said things are better in most departments, with the exception of one.

“The NRC concluded that a chilled safety-conscious environment was present in the security department at Palisades,” Eric Duncan of the NRC said.

Palisades management said Thursday that was because workers wrongly believed two security people had been disciplined for reporting a safety issue.

“Fundamentally, we had a communications issue that has not been corrected,” Palisades executive Otto Gustafson said.

Management listed things it was doing to correct that. The NRC says it will take a long look at the safety culture of the plant this year.

But what the NRC says about improvements at the plant doesn’t impress veteran nuclear critics like Kevin Klamps.

“So NRC can talk a good line, you know, talk is cheap,” he said. “What we’re seeing is a reactor that’s way past retirement age and is at risk of breaking down, perhaps in a catastrophic way.”

Pederson said her agency believes the plant is operating safely and will do something if that changes.

The plant went back online at 2:40 p.m. Thursday after a 5 1/2-day maintenance shutdown.

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