NRC disappointed in Hartsville plant performance

HARTSVILLE, SC (WACH, WPDE) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says its disappointed in the 2010 safety performance of Progress Energy's HB Robinson Nuclear Plant near Hartsville.

Commissioners made the statement during their annual public meeting to review and discuss the plant's safety performance Thursday at Coker College in Hartsville.

"Their level of performance was not what we expect. Some of the issues that they had the even in March of last year was a fairly significant event. We expect better performance. They did not meet the regulatory requirements that we set forth," said Rick Croteau, NRC. The NRC did say Robinson operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety,

In March, a high voltage power cable failed at the Robinson plant causing a fire. Several hours after that fire was put out, workers re-energized the cable that had started the first fire. The cable was still in failure and ignited a second fire.

Then in October, an electrical problem in the cooling pump led to a shutdown of the plant.

Read more Report: SC among nation TMs most at-risk sites for nuclear catastrophe SCANA: Jenkinsville nuclear site safe Critics say nuclear meltdown could happen here

In its follow up inspections, the NRC found three areas of concern at the plant that centered around inadequate procedures, operator training and human performance.

As a result, the NRC has increased oversight and will conduct a series inspections at the plant.

Thursday's meeting held by the NRC was attended by dozens of people, including Peggy Peck, who lives very close to the plant "Being so close you don't want to turn to toast," she said, "You want to know what's going on. My neighbors want to know what's going on. We're really ignorant when it comes to this type of thing and we want to learn more about it."

Commissioners told the crowd that the two March fires, and the cooling pump failure in October presented a low to moderate safety significance but had a common theme of inadequate procedures.

That's alarming to Peck. "That's very scary because it's human failure and humans makes mistakes."

Progress Energy, which operates the Robinson plant, says they've already already started to resolve the issues.

Robert Duncan is Vice President of the Robinson plant. "We went through quite a bit of procedural upgrades. We went through operator training and equipment performance. So, we made some modifications at the plant that were vital to safety of the plant and we continue to assess these."

The NRC's Rick Croteau says they don't just take the company's word for it. "We have detailed inspections, with many inspectors scheduled to come out here once they're ready in late May or early June to satisfy ourselves, they've taken the corrective actions."

Peck appreciates that Progress Energy owned up to the failures cited by the NRC but says she feels safer knowing the NRC is watching Robinson closely.

Last year, the NRC spent nearly 5,000 hours inspecting the Robinson plant. Two NRC inspectors actually work at the facility daily.

(WPDE contributed to this story.)