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In new settlement, regulators won’t propose fine on Palisades nuclear plant over 2011 water leak

Mark Savage
The settlement over how workers handled a 2011 water leak into the Palisades control room means regulators will not levy a civil penalty.

Federal regulators will not propose a civil penalty against the owners of the Palisades nuclear plant. That’s after a years-long investigationfound Palisades employees “willfully violated” federal rules.

The investigation found that in May 2011, when water started leaking into the control room at the Palisades plant near South Haven, four workers knew pretty quickly that a large water tank on the roof of the building was likely the source of the leak. But they didn’t follow up.

The leaky tank was eventually fixed, two years later. The fix involved replacing the vast majority of the huge tank, which can hold 300,000 gallons of water for use in an emergency.

In the settlement announced this week,Entergy, the company that owns Palisades, said the workers didn’t break rules on purpose, blaming "deficiencies in the organizational safety culture" during that time.

Val Gent, a Palisades spokeswoman, says the tank has “experienced no further issues” since the fix.

Gent would not say whether the four employees are still working at the plant.

“We do not believe there was any willful violation of NRC requirements – an issue over which the NRC has agreed to disagree. Although it is not appropriate to comment further on specific disciplinary measures, we can state that willful violations would not reflect Entergy's values. Entergy does not tolerate deliberately failing to follow procedures,” Gent said in a written statement.

The settlement means regulators will not levy a fine against the plant.

In exchange, the company will take several “corrective actions,” the NRC says. In addition to fixing the leak and waterproofing the concrete below the tank, the plant has already made personnel and management changes, and taken steps to improve safety culture.

Entergy will have to implement a process to “ensure site personnel understand lessons learned from this matter.” They’ll also have to share those lessons within the company, which operates 11 nuclear reactors in the U.S, and in the industry more broadly.

The company also agreed to improve public communications as part of the settlement. They’ve agreed to host five public meetings before the end of 2018. One meeting, which will be held before the end of this year, “will address the events that led to” the settlement order.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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