BAY CITY — Officials at a Matagorda County power plant have taken immediate action to correct a low-level security violation, the man tasked with finding those violations said Thursday.
“When the issue came up, the licensee promptly took action to mitigate the issue,” said Alfred Sanchez, National Regulatory Commission senior resident inspector at the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station near Bay City. “The plant put in a significant amount of time and resources and people to permanently resolve the issue — not just resolve it for now, resolve it forever.”
Every nuclear plant in the United States gets a baseline inspection based on a federal code of regulations, Sanchez told the audience at a Bay City Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday at the Bay City Civic Center. The plant’s performance determines the amount of frequency of inspections, he said.
“If the plant is not doing very well, we increase the inspections from that baseline,” Sanchez said. “The goal is to catch any major deficiencies in plant performance.”
Plants are placed in categories 1 through 5 based on the severity of violations the sites can receive, Sanchez said. The South Texas Project had never received a violation higher than “green” — the lowest — until last October, when it was cited with a white violation, he said.
For safety reasons, Sanchez could not elaborate on the nature of the violation, saying only it was not related to cyber security.
“If green is very low safety significance, white is low safety significance. If you grow up in school and have straight As and then you get your first B, the drive should be, ‘I’m going to bring that B back to an A and I’m never going to be there again,’” Sanchez said. “That’s where South Texas is at.”
The white violation placed the South Texas Project in Column 2, Sanchez said, but if a scheduled July 31 inspection yields improvement, the power plant can return to the lowest level by the fourth quarter of this year.
“South Texas has taken this issue very seriously and put a significant amount of energy into producing a quality root cause evaluation and substantial corrective actions,” Sanchez said. “This team is going to come out and inspect that, and I think they’re going to come up with the same assessment.”
Each of the 99 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. employs at least two resident inspectors, Sanchez said. Prior to a 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generation Station in Pennsylvania, that number was zero.
“We didn’t have resident inspectors at the plant so it was hard to get reliable information. Phone lines get all blocked,” Sanchez said. “After that event, we’re going to have resident inspectors at every single site specifically for emergency response.”
Simply put, the commission’s goal is to protect public health and safety, Sanchez said. It is achieved with the help of resident inspectors such as Sanchez, who conduct inspections, monitor significant work projects and interact with plant workers and members of the public.
“It does not matter whether the plant is at 50 percent power, 100 percent power or shut down, it’s all about safety of that core,” Sanchez said. “That’s the heart of the entire organization and I’m out to protect that heart.”