NRC Staff Proposes $210,000 Civil Penalty Against GPU Nuclear for Violations at Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant




475 Allendale Road, King of Prussia, Pa. 19406

CONTACT: Diane Screnci (610)337-5330/ e-mail:
Neil A. Sheehan (610)337-5331/e-mail:


October 9, 1997


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has proposed $210,000 in fines against the operator of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant for a variety of violations of agency requirements relating to the facility's performance. Located in Middletown, Pa., Three Mile Island is owned and operated by GPU Nuclear Corporation.

Identified during five inspections conducted between November 12, 1996, and May 15, 1997, the violations were discussed with GPU during predecisional enforcement conferences on May 22 and July 25. Four key areas of poor performance have been cited by the NRC and are the subject of fines. They include:

Inadequate engineering design controls, including incorrect inputs for certain design basis calculations, inadequate verifications to ensure designs would work as intended and inadequate safety evaluations prior to making design changes. For example, the plant's design basis, or operational blueprint, was not correctly translated into operating procedures regarding the switchover of the decay heat removal system pumps from the borated water storage tank to the reactor building sump. Such a switchover would have to occur in the event of a loss-of-coolant accident at the plant but may not have because of the translation error.

The fine for these violations is $50,000.

Poor implementation of the process for classifying plant equipment. A number of safety-related components were downgraded to a lower classification without an appropriate safety evaluation or other supporting engineering documentation. Put another way, GPU Nuclear relabeled certain pieces of equipment as having lower safety significance before doing a thorough review of those changes. (Non-safety-related components are purchased at lesser quality standards than safety-related equipment.) A case in point was the downgrading of nuclear river water motor operator discharge valves to a non-safety-related classification on July 18, 1994. The valves are used to provide cooling water to safety-related plant equipment.

The fine for these violations is $50,000.

Failure to take timely and appropriate steps to address problem areas, including conditions related to the decay heat removal system and to quality assurance findings regarding the inappropriate equipment classification downgrades.

The fine for these violations is $55,000.

Inadequate implementation of the plant's emergency preparedness program. Specifically, during the plant's emergency exercise last March 5, the emergency director failed to declare a general emergency -- the highest of four emergency classifications -- when such a step was warranted. Also, emergency response training was not adequate and procedures contained insufficient guidance for considering, as was necessary, protective action recommendations beyond the 10-mile emergency planning zone.

The fine for these violations is $55,000.

Besides these infractions, the NRC also cited, but did not propose a fine, for four other violations. The most significant was a failure to ensure that the three reactor building emergency cooling fans had been qualified to properly operate in the aftermath of a loss-of-cooling accident.

The other violations included: The borated water storage tank level transmitter not being set in accordance with applicable specifications, procedures and drawings; a failure to test certain circuit-breakers; and a failure to test certain check valves.

In a letter to GPU Nuclear, NRC Region 1 Administrator Hubert J. Miller stressed that the penalties being proposed reflect the agency's concern about the plant's current performance.

"The violations have brought to light weaknesses in operations and management oversight that need attention, and reflect a philosophy that has not led to aggressive identification and correction of problems in the areas cited," Mr. Miller wrote. "The fact that many of these issues were identified by the NRC, despite prior opportunities to identify them, exacerbates the seriousness of these issues."

GPU Nuclear has 30 days to pay the fine or to request in writing that all or part be withdrawn.

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