Millstone News

Dominion Keeps a Big Bad Secret: Millstone’s Main Radiation Monitor Broke Down

Dominion’s proper operation of Millstone’s tall, red-and-white radiation stack – a landmark for boaters and aviators alike – is its pledge to the community that it is protecting families from high doses of radiation. (Millstone’s nuclear reactors are designed to continuously release lower doses of radiation to the air and water and they do.)
If the stack monitor is not operating properly, it presents “a major loss of emergency [radiation monitoring] capabilities,” in NRC jargon. That means the company doesn’t know the levels of radioisotopes – strontium-90, strontium-89, cesirum-134, cesium-137, Iodine-131 and 100 other radioactive carcinogens – it’s dispersing to its populated surroundings.
We are now learning that back in April, for an undisclosed period of time, Millstone’s main stack monitor was broken down and inoperative. It was generating no data on airborne radiation releases to the environment.
Though this fact was known or knowable to Millstone operators, they withheld the information from the NRC and the public. NRC regulations require a nuclear power plant operator to notify the NRC within 8 hours of a major loss of radiation monitoring capability.
While operators were conducting a routine surveillance of the stack monitor on April 16, 2013, they discovered a bypass pump was not running. The pump is critical to the operation of the monitoring system. They knew the air monitoring system was inoperative.
An NRC report dated August 6, 2013, citing Dominion for violating federal regulations by withholding the information, does not identify what period of time Millstone was without a working stack radiation monitoring system prior to the routine surveillance.
The NRC first became aware of the condition on April 18, when an NRC inspector questioned control room operators about the operability of the stack monitor. It was only then that Dominion reported the failure formally.
The failure of the stack monitoring system was serious because it is the only source of information Dominion uses to assess Unit 2’s radiation releases to determine whether to declare a general emergency or other emergency alarms.
“There are no compensatory measures to mitigate the degradation or loss of emergency response function if the monitor is inoperable,” the NRC report states.
We are asking the NRC to inform us as to whether Unit 2 operators receive real-time data from the stack monitor in the control room and whether they can determine from such data when the system went inoperable. We are also asking for any available data on actual radiation releases during the period of the air monitoring breakdown.
What we do know is that Dominion deliberately and illegally kept the region in the dark for two days about its stack releases; if there were emergency or even “unusual” levels being released, alarms that should have issued weren’t.
Dominion engaged in an ultimate deceit: for two days or more, its pledge to the region that it can properly operate its radiation stack was a sham.
The NRC, which possesses formidable enforcement powers, imposed no enforcement again Dominion for this egregious episode.
Return here for a follow-up report.