The preliminary results of an independent investigation of Energy Northwest found mostly issues with communication, according to a report to the Energy Northwest executive board in Pasco on Wednesday.
The Pillsbury law firm of Washington, D.C., was hired to investigate allegations made in an anonymous letter sent to members of Energy Northwest government boards in January. The letter said it was from a group of Energy Northwest employees.
They alleged that information about sub-par performance of the nuclear plant near Richland, the Columbia Generating Station, was being withheld from government boards, employees and the public.
A second phase of the investigation is planned, but preliminary results on the first phase showed that some mid-course corrections are likely, said Sid Morrison, executive board chairman.
“We found overall that senior plant management have been transparent in communication of data,” said attorney Daryl Shapiro.
But investigators recommended that data be aligned to make it less confusing when it is communicated. The executive board also needs to make clear what information it expects to hear from the Energy Northwest management team and how soon it wants the information.
We found no indication the sole focus of the team was on generation, not to say that was not considered.
Attorney Daryl Shapiro
There has been a decline in performance at Energy Northwest’s nuclear power plant near Richland, the Columbia Generating Station, but issues are being addressed, Shapiro said.
Some issues were influenced by the last refueling outage, which was longer than expected, reducing production and exposing outage workers to more radiation than anticipated for the shorter schedule. The plant also operated at reduced power for several weeks after the outage as a stuck valve was repaired.
Although the investigators were not charged with looking at whether the plant was operating safely, they came across nothing that made them question that, said attorney Jeffrey Merrifield, a former commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Investigators interviewed about 40 people and reviewed hundreds of documents.
They found a mix of too much data communicated in some cases and some communication that was too little or too late.
Performance data needs to be simplified and aligned when it is presented to prevent confusion from different measurements used for different purposes, investigators recommended.
Information released on performance, including from the NRC and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, uses different thresholds and that could be interpreted as misleading, investigators found.
There was no rigging of safety data, but confusing data was released, Shapiro said.
We need everyone to feel able to speak up.
Executive Board Chairman Sid Morrison
Management did not immediately tell the board or employees that a subcontractor employee had been injured in a fall and required treatment at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The safe operations clock was not correctly reset after the accident.
The investigation did not find evidence to support an allegation that management was focused on keeping the plant operating at all costs, including during the valve repair. The letter tied pinhole leaks in fuel to unwanted material that got into the reactor core during the valve repair because the plant was not taken offline,
The decision to make the repair with the plant operating at reduced capacity was made with an appropriate focus on safety, and workers were kept informed, Shapiro said. Workers were invited to bring up concerns and ideas, which were addressed.
The valve repair was not necessarily the cause of the pinhole leaks, Merrifield said. A variety of outage activities could have contributed to the issue.
The second phase of the investigation will focus on the overarching issue that workers would send an anonymous letter because they said they were fearful of retaliation, said Skip Orser, chairman of a board committee formed to consider the allegations.
“We need everyone to feel able to speak up,” Morrison said.
Shapiro said that workers who were interviewed were open, cooperative and conversational.