NRC: Wolf Creek Nuclear Plant Needs Increased Oversight

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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March 31, 2011

UPDATE

The federal government is increasing its oversight over the state's only nuclear power plant. The Wolf Creek power plant near Burlington is one of three nationwide to require extra inspection, although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the plant has continued operating safely.

Wolf Creek has been operating for 26 years and this is the first time it has fallen into a category requiring extra inspection from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but management says it began fixing the problem before the NRC's report was even released.

The plant produces enough energy each day to power 800,000 homes, and those in charge say safety comes first.

"Achieving the highest level of safety is our objective. We're just not shooting to be in the middle of the pack, if you're not shooting to be the best you really have your sights set too low," said Wolf Creek CEO and President Matt Sunseri.

Its safety expectations are why Sunseri says the plant immediately took action after three of its 16 performance indicators showed levels for concern. Those indicators are what spurred increased oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC has five levels of oversight, and the highest is "unacceptable performance." Wolf Creek is one of three plants to fall on the third level called, "degraded cornerstone."

"This is the first time that we've ever had performance indicators in this range so we're taking this seriously, obviously," said Sunseri.

The problems involve equipment performance, which in some cases caused the plant to have to shut down unexpectedly. But now, better maintenance and management have improved the situation, returning two out of the three performance indicators to normal.

"Really the people that work at the plant live in this community. So I know they want to operate the plant well, and we want to operate the plant safely," said Sunseri.

So Wolf Creek says it's using this experience to be better, in an industry already in the spotlight for safety standards.

"We are self critical and continuous learning is part of our culture, and that has helped the nuclear industry in general improve over the years," said Sunseri.

The other plants falling in the third level of NRC oversight are in South Carolina and Nebraska.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says three
nuclear power plants, including Wolf Creek in Kansas, need increased oversight from federal regulators because of safety problems or unplanned shutdowns.

However, agency officials say all three facilities are operating
safely, and that the heightened review of the three plants is
routine.

An NRC spokesman identifies the plants as the H.B. Robinson
nuclear plant in South Carolina, the Fort Calhoun facility in
Nebraska and Wolf Creek near Burlington, Kansas.

In all, there are 65 nuclear power plants operating in 31
states.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a House energy
panel today the NRC has a very strong safety program. The panel was
meeting to review the agency's budget and safety concerns in the
wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan.


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