NRC: 'Vector turning' at Prairie IslandKeep doing what you're doing. That was the message Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials told leaders from Xcel Energy Tuesday during a meeting to review concerns related to human performance issues at the Prairie Island nuclear plant.
By: MIkle Longaecker - Red Wing Republican-Eagle, Pierce County Herald
RED WING - Keep doing what you're doing.
That was the message Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials told leaders from Xcel Energy Tuesday during a meeting to review concerns related to human performance issues at the Prairie Island nuclear plant.
"By several measures, we have seen the vector turning in the right direction," said NRC Regional Administrator Mark Satorius.
But officials from both the utility and the regulatory agency said efforts to stem so-called "cross cutting" issues at the plant must continue.
The Prairie Island plant was flagged in 2008 for numerous findings that shared a common cause - or "cross cutting," as the agency terms it - relating to how plant workers perform their jobs. NRC officials last year warned that the indicators were a precursor to safety issues at the plant.
Tuesday's meeting paired a panel of NRC officials with a panel of Xcel leaders to publicly review the plant's status, where both sides presented updates on the cross-cutting situation.
Initiatives set forth by the company since human performance deficiencies were identified in 2008 "are bearing fruit," plant manager Kevin Davison said.
But, he said, "That does not mean we do not have work to do yet."
Extensive changes - implemented through a three-phase process - have gone into effect at the plant aimed at remedying the problem, Xcel leaders said. Procedures have changed, decision-making has improved and new policies have gone into place, the Xcel panel explained.
Perhaps chief among those has been a heightened leadership role that plant supervisors have been tasked with.
Site Vice President Mark Schimmel said senior management has decentralized some leadership duties, leaning harder on mid- and lower-level supervisors to supporter plant operators without provocation. That's beginning to make a difference, he said.
"I personally am seeing them rise up and take ownership at the station," Schimmel said.
Agency officials applauded the improvement, but said they won't consider the matter cleared until the utility can establish sustainable practices and cross-cutting related findings decrease.
NRC officials used the meeting to quiz the Xcel panel publicly and to issue remarks.
"It was a struggle for you a year ago," and into this summer, Satorius said while asking what has helped move the ball forward at the plant. "It seems to me that we've gained some success ... I'm struck, because it appears you've made some progress in the past six months."
Davison said that has come from consistent reinforcement of standards at the plant.
Not everyone at the meeting came away satisfied.
Frontenac resident Kristen Eide-Tollefson, representing the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant Study Group, said that while progress in the human performance category is promising, other issues - especially plant discharge of warm water into the Mississippi River - need greater scrutiny.
"What about these legacy issues? That's what I'm not satisfied about," she said.