New review might help Grand Gulf efforts for construction|[04/24/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Grand Gulf Nuclear Station near Port Gibson has received a positive review of its 2007 safety operations from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which might bode well for Entergy in its continued efforts to construct a new reactor at the site.

The NRC uses color-coded inspection findings to assess plant performance, whereby green is the best, followed by white, yellow and red. Grand Gulf received a green rating on every area of safety performance reviewed.

“They got a very, very good review,” said Victor Dricks, NRC public affairs officer. “We concluded that in 2007 they operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety.”

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However, the NRC did note what it called “human performance decision-making” problems.

“Basically, that’s human error, and we did identify a weakness in that area,” he said.

Human errors, said Dricks, resulted in a failure to establish appropriate trouble-shooting methods as well as an unplanned power reduction.

“This should not have any effect on their plans for a second reactor,” he said.

On April 18 the NRC accepted for review a license application for Grand Gulf to build a new reactor, which would be the first built in the nation in decades.

“Up until last year, we had not had accepted any license applications since the accident at Three Mile Island,” said Dricks.

In 1979, the Pennsylvania-based nuclear plant experienced a partial meltdown, resulting in the release of a significant amount of radiation. No immediate or subsequent injuries have been blamed on the accident, but public sentiment in the United States did not favor promoting nuclear energy following the accident and construction of nuclear facilities was essentially halted.

The process of reviewing and accepting Grand Gulf’s application will take years.

“We expect work to continue through mid-2011. Nothing will happen quickly, and there’ll be a lot of public hearings and discussions on this before it’s approved,” said Dricks.

Construction of the first reactor at Grand Gulf took 14 years, beginning in 1971, and cost roughly $3 billion. A second reactor was planned at the site from the outset, but cost and demand factors led to the scrapping of the second unit in 1989. Located on 2,100 acres off U.S. 61 north of Port Gibson, the Grand Gulf plant employes about 700.

Operated by Entergy, the plant is owned jointly by System Energy Resources Inc., and South Mississippi Electric Power Association.