Revised emergency procedures at the nuclear power plant north of Richland did not meet all safety requirements from June 2014 until March of this year, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
It issued a preliminary finding of “white” on its color scale that grades safety significance of violations. White violations, the second lowest on the NRC scale, have low to moderate safety significance and may result in additional NRC inspections.
The NRC concluded that the issue raised in the Columbia Generating Station’s inspection was not an immediate safety concern.
Energy Northwest, which operates the plant, could recommend an evacuation as a measure to protect the public when appropriate, despite what its emergency procedures said, Energy Northwest and the NRC agreed. In addition, Energy Northwest gave immediate guidance to its staff and initiated changes to its procedure, the NRC said.
The revision to the emergency procedures that the NRC questioned were the result of misunderstanding NRC requirements, the NRC report said.
The procedure covered a highly unlikely event, said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken.
The changes removed the option of recommending that residents within two to five miles of the nuclear power plant shelter in place if there was a brief release of airborne radioactive material during an emergency. Some Energy Northwest officials misunderstood regulations to conclude that scenario, called a “puff release,” called for an evacuation recommendation.
Energy Northwest officials would make the recommendation to county officials who would then issue any order for an evacuation or to shelter in place. About 55 people live within two to five miles of the nuclear reactor, with the closest residents about four miles from the plant, Dobken said.
The emergency plan still required shelter in place to be considered, but did not provide a mechanism for the action to be recommended, according to the NRC findings. There was no decision path or evaluation criteria in the plan that would have resulted in that recommendation.
The changes to emergency procedures also removed the responsibility for recommending protective action outside the 10-mile emergency planning zone from the emergency coordinator in the control room, according to the NRC report.
The revised procedures delegated that responsibility to the technical support center or the emergency operations facility, which could cause a delay in recommending needed protective actions if they were not yet staffed when a recommendation is required.
Energy Northwest has requested a regulatory conference on the finding to clarify its position, Dobken said. NRC is required to provide the option of a regulatory conference, which is usually held within 30 days.