United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

EA-96-500 - South Texas 1 & 2 (Houston Lighting & Power Company)

March 27, 1997

EA 96-500

William T. Cottle, Group Vice
President, Nuclear
Houston Lighting & Power Company
Post Office Box 289
Wadsworth, Texas 77483

SUBJECT:  NOTICE OF VIOLATION AND EXERCISE OF ENFORCEMENT DISCRETION
          (NRC SPECIAL INSPECTION REPORT 50-498/96-25; 50-499/96-25)

Dear Mr. Cottle:

This refers to the February 6, 1997, letter submitted by Houston Lighting & Power Company (HL&P) in response to the apparent violations identified in NRC Inspection Report 50-498/96-25; 50-499/96-25, issued on December 11, 1996. NRC's inspection was completed on December 6, 1996. As indicated in the NRC letter transmitting the inspection report, two apparent violations were identified involving leakage from a valve in the safety injection system at South Texas Project (STP), Unit 2. HL&P was given a choice of requesting a predecisional enforcement conference or submitting a written response to the apparent violations. HL&P first opted for a conference, but rescinded that request on January 23, 1997, and chose to submit a written response to the apparent violations.

In its February 6 response, HL&P did not dispute the apparent violations and described specific actions taken to correct each of them and the broader issues associated with them. These actions included repairing the leaking valve, assuring that no other leakage paths existed, and implementing various measures aimed at ensuring a careful assessment of any plant conditions that may impact design basis margins. A more detailed description of these actions is contained in HL&P's February 6 letter.

Based on the information developed during the inspection, and the information that HL&P provided in its response to the inspection report, the NRC has determined that a violation of NRC requirements occurred. This violation is cited in the enclosed Notice of Violation (Notice) and concerns a failure to promptly identify and correct a significant nonconforming condition, namely a safety injection system valve that was leaking excessively and at a rate greater than that described in the facility's Updated Final Safety Analysis Report (UFSAR). Consequently, this failure to identify the significance of the condition led to a failure to perform an evaluation pursuant to the requirements of 10 CFR 50.59, to determine if operation of the safety injection system in a manner different from that described in the UFSAR constituted an unreviewed safety question.

The NRC's primary concern about this violation is the failure of plant staff to recognize the significance of safety injection system leakage outside containment. Leakage from this valve into the Fuel Handling Building, a significant condition adverse to quality, was identified by plant operators in February 1996, and was not scheduled for repair until June 1997. As discussed in the inspection report, at least six reviewers of the condition report which described this leakage, including licensed operators and the system engineer, failed to recognize the potential impact of system leakage on doses to control room personnel in the event of a loss of coolant accident. Further, the leakage was approximately 20 times the amount assumed for dose calculations contained in UFSAR Table 15.6-12, and this condition was not evaluated in accordance with 10 CFR 50.59 in order to determine if an unreviewed safety question existed or if it was appropriate to delay repairs until June 1997. The NRC considers that degraded or nonconforming conditions not permanently resolved at the first available opportunity are, in essence, de facto changes to the facility that should be evaluated under 10 CFR 50.59. In this case, the failure to fully evaluate the degraded condition resulted in the failure to identify an unreviewed safety question. Appropriate action was finally taken in October 1996, but only after the issue was raised by the NRC's resident inspector at STP in September 1996. Thus, for approximately 8 months, a condition existed which would have resulted in significantly higher doses to control room personnel and to increased radioactivity released from the facility had a loss of coolant accident occurred.

In accordance with the "General Statement of Policy and Procedure for NRC Enforcement Actions" (Enforcement Policy), NUREG-1600, the violation described above and in the Notice has been categorized at Severity Level III. In accordance with the Enforcement Policy, a civil penalty with a base value of $50,000 is considered for a Severity Level III violation. Because your facility has been the subject of escalated enforcement action within the last 2 years1, the NRC considered whether credit was warranted for Identification and Corrective Action in accordance with the civil penalty assessment process in Section VI.B.2 of the Enforcement Policy. As indicated above, this problem was identified by the NRC, thus HL&P is not deserving of credit for identification. Based on our review of the actions you have taken, as described in your February 6 letter, we have determined that credit for corrective action is warranted.

The NRC's consideration of the factors described above normally would result in the assessment of a civil penalty at the base value. However, we note as HL&P did in its February 6 letter, that the events that led to the escalated enforcement actions summarized in Footnote 1, occurred more than 2 years prior to the discovery of the violations at issue in this case. The NRC has taken this into consideration and has determined that this fact, in conjunction with the recent overall good performance at STP warrants the exercise of discretion in accordance with Section VII.B.6 of the Enforcement Policy. Therefore, after consultation with the Director, Office of Enforcement and the Deputy Executive Director for Regulatory Effectiveness, Program Oversight, Investigations and Enforcement, no civil penalty is being proposed in this case. However, HL&P is on notice that significant violations in the future, particularly a recurrence of the violation described in the Notice, could result in a civil penalty.

The NRC has concluded that information regarding the reasons for the violation, the corrective actions taken and planned to correct the violation and prevent recurrence, and the date when full compliance was achieved is already adequately addressed on the docket in Inspection Report No. 50-498/96-25; 50-499/96-25 and HL&P's letter dated February 6, 1997. Therefore, you are not required to respond to this letter unless the description in the referenced correspondence does not accurately reflect your corrective actions or your position. In that case, or if you choose to provide additional information, you should follow the instructions specified in the enclosed Notice.

In accordance with 10 CFR 2.790 of the NRC's "Rules of Practice," a copy of this letter, its enclosure, and any response you choose to submit will be placed in the NRC Public Document Room (PDR).

                            Sincerely, 

                            org signed by
                            ELLIS W. MERSCHOFF

                            Ellis W. Merschoff
                            Regional Administrator

Dockets: 50-498; 50-499
Licenses: NPF-76; NPF-80

Enclosure: Notice of Violation

cc w/enclosure:
Lawrence E. Martin, General Manager
Nuclear Assurance & Licensing
Houston Lighting & Power Company
P.O. Box 289
Wadsworth, Texas 77483

Mr. J. C. Lanier/Mr. M. B. Lee
City of Austin
Electric Utility Department
721 Barton Springs Road
Austin, Texas 78704

Mr. K. J. Fiedler/Mr. M. T. Hardt
City Public Service Board
P.O. Box 1771
San Antonio, Texas 78296

Jack R. Newman, Esq.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
1800 M. Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-5869

Mr. G. E. Vaughn/Mr. C. A. Johnson
Central Power & Light Company
P.O. Box 289, Mail Code: N5012
Wadsworth, Texas 77483

INPO
Records Center
700 Galleria Parkway
Atlanta, Georgia 30339-5957

Dr. Bertram Wolfe
15453 Via Vaquero
Monte Sereno, California 95030

Bureau of Radiation Control
State of Texas
1100 West 49th Street
Austin, Texas 78756

Andy Barrett, Director
Environmental Policy
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711

Judge, Matagorda County
Matagorda County Courthouse
1700 Seventh Street
Bay City, Texas 77414

Licensing Representative
Houston Lighting & Power Company
Suite 610
Three Metro Center
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

Rufus S. Scott, Associate
General Counsel
Houston Lighting & Power Company
P.O. Box 61867
Houston, Texas 77208

Joseph R. Egan, Esq.
Egan & Associates, P.C.
2300 N Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037

Mr. J. W. Beck
Little Harbor Consultants, Inc
44 Nichols Road
Cohasset, MA 02025-1166


NOTICE OF VIOLATION
Houston Lighting and Power Company                        Dockets:  50-498; 50-499
South Texas Project                                       Licenses:  NPF-76; NPF-80
                                                          EA 96-500

During an NRC inspection completed December 6, 1996, a violation of NRC requirements was identified. In accordance with the "General Statement of Policy and Procedure for NRC Enforcement Actions," NUREG-1600, the violation is listed below:

10 CFR Part 50, Appendix B, Criterion XVI requires that "Measures shall be established to assure that conditions adverse to quality, such as failures, malfunctions, deficiencies, deviations, defective material and equipment, and nonconformances are promptly identified and corrected. In the case of significant conditions adverse to quality, the measures shall assure that the cause of the condition is determined and corrective action taken to preclude repetition. The identification of the significant condition adverse to quality, the cause of the condition, and the corrective action taken shall be documented and reported to appropriate levels of management."

10 CFR 50.59 paragraph (a)(1) states, in part, "The holder of a license authorizing operation of a production or utilization facility may (i) make changes in the facility as described in the safety analysis report . . . unless the proposed change, test or experiment involves a change in the technical specifications incorporated in the license or an unreviewed safety question."

Updated Final Safety Analysis Report (UFSAR) Table 15.6-12 lists the maximum potential recirculation loop leakage external to containment and into the Fuel Handling Building as 4,140 cubic centimeters per hour. The leakage assumed for dose calculations following a postulated large-break loss of coolant accident was selected as twice the leakage rate listed in the table.

Contrary to the above, from February 22 through October 3, 1996, excessive leakage from an emergency core cooling system valve, a significant condition adverse to quality, existed and was not promptly identified and corrected, in that, a condition report documenting valve leakage in the system was not evaluated for possible adverse safety consequences nor was the valve repaired. Further, the licensee continued to operate the facility with a degraded condition that was not evaluated to determine whether the condition constituted a change to the facility as described in the UFSAR resulting in an unreviewed safety question. Specifically, leakage from an emergency core cooling system valve, approximately 20 times greater than that allowed by UFSAR Table 15.6-12, was identified and not properly evaluated. (01013)

This is a Severity Level III violation (Supplement I).

The NRC has concluded that information regarding the reason for the violation, the corrective actions taken and planned to correct the violation and prevent recurrence, and the date when full compliance was achieved is already adequately addressed on the docket in Inspection Report No. 50-498/96-25; 50-499/96-25, issued on December 11, 1996 and a letter from the Licensee dated February 6, 1997. Therefore, no response to this Notice is required. However, the Licensee is required to submit a written statement or explanation pursuant to 10 CFR 2.201 if the description in the referenced correspondence does not accurately reflect its corrective actions or its position. In that case, or if HL&P chooses to respond, clearly mark the response as a "Reply to a Notice of Violation," and send it to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ATTN: Document Control Desk, Washington, D.C. 20555 with a copy to the Regional Administrator, Region IV, 611 Ryan Plaza Drive, Suite 400, Arlington, Texas 76011.

Dated at Arlington, Texas
this 27th day of March 1997


1. On October 17, 1995, a Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition Civil Penalty in the amount of $160,000 was issued for violations involving discrimination of security personnel in 1992. On September 19, 1996, a Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition of Civil Penalty in the amount of $200,000 was issued for violations involving discrimination of contract personnel at STP in 1991 and early 1994.

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