How safe is York Co.'s Catawba Nuclear Station? Inspectors have answers

Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie
Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie

The group that judges the safety of the Catawba Nuclear Station wants to talk.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set an open house for April 25 to discuss the station's safety. The two-unit plant, run by Duke Energy, is on Lake Wylie. Federal inspectors, including full-time inspectors at the site, will answer questions.

The most recent findings show Catawba is running safely, but there's room for improvement.

The color-coded safety ratings, worsening from green to white to yellow to red, are based on thousands of annual inspection hours.

One unit at Catawba was green for 2017, meaning all findings were of "very low safety significance."

The other unit dropped to white, based on an inspection in the third quarter last year.

"This conclusion was based on a single inspection finding having low-to-moderate safety significance," reads the February letter from NRC division of reactor projects director Joel Munday to Tom Simril, Catawba Nuclear site vice president.

The safety concern involved preventative maintenance to an emergency diesel generator. After an electrical component failed in April 2017 during a scheduled test, the federal group "reviewed the event and determined that the plant staff had failed to adequately develop and adjust preventive maintenance activities," according to an October release.

That finding prompts additional inspections, possibly by the first full week of May.

Munday's letter also said the federal commission acknowledges overall safety is good at the station.

"The NRC concluded that overall performance at your facility preserved public health and safety," it states.

Sara Collins, spokesperson for Duke and the nuclear station, said safety is always a priority for employees and the communities surrounding facilities.

"Our job and focus every day is to operate Catawba Nuclear Station safely, as we have been doing for more than 30 years," she said.

The April 11, 2017, incident involved an output breaker tripped because of a a diode — an electronic device allowing current to flow one-way, or an electronic version of a check valve — shorting. Operators "immediately secured" the generator and declared it inoperable, Collins said.

The generator was back in service two days later.

"We immediately pulled together a team to analyze the event and determine the cause," Collins said. "We have implemented corrective actions to prevent a re-occurrence of this event. At no point were employees, the plant or public at risk."

Want to go?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission open house is 5:30-6:30 p.m. April 25 at Rock Hill City Hall rotunda, 155 Johnston St.

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