NRC chief: Progress being made at Mich. nuke plant

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — The Palisades nuclear plant in southwestern Michigan is making progress on fixing its myriad problems but still has many to overcome, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Friday.

Gregory Jaczko toured the plant on the Lake Michigan shore near South Haven in Van Buren County's Covert Township. The plant has been under increasing scrutiny because of a series of performance and equipment failures, and has been classified by the NRC as one of the four worst performers of the 100 nuclear plants it regulates.

New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., which owns Palisades, has said the plant's safety culture has improved. Jaczko said he agrees that efforts are being made but major inspections within the next year will confirm if the plant has been successful.

"At this point, they have a recognition that there are areas they need to improve," he said. "We'll wait for inspection results to say if they are working or not."

Jaczko said the 41-year-old plant needs to make improvements in many areas, but it comes down to "the basics of managing and running a nuclear facility."

The commission has said that, in one case, an electrical fault caused by plant workers made the reactor and half of the control room indicators shut down and triggered safety systems that actual plant conditions did not justify. In another instance, a water pump that cools safety equipment failed, the result of a crack in one of the couplings that hold together rods in the cooling system. The same failure happened in 2009, and the commission said an inspection showed the plant had not done enough to prevent a recurrence.

In a phone conference Thursday, activists said the plant has many flaws, including a brittle reactor pressure vessel and aging steam generators. Beyond Nuclear, an activist group, said the commission should shut down Palisades.

Jaczko announced his resignation on Monday after a tumultuous three-year tenure in which he pushed for sweeping safety reforms but came under fire for an unyielding management style that fellow commissioners and agency employees described as bullying. On Thursday, President Barack Obama nominated Allison Macfarlane, who served on a presidential commission that studied new strategies to manage nuclear waste.

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