February 16, 2021
Wisconsin has two operating nuclear power reactors at Point Beach and one shuttered unit at Kewaunee, all on Lake Michigan.* Point Beach reactors are now owned by NextEra Energy Resources. The “operator” was Florida Power and Light from 2005 to2009; and in December 1996 Wepco was the owner.
The Point Beach reactors have suffered frequent unplanned shutdowns caused by accidents. Some of the mishaps have resulted in official warnings, fines, and criminal convictions.
Only four “RED” findings — the highest failure warning that is issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) — have ever been made public. Two of the four went to Point Beach. These severe failures involved procedures that were declared “inadequate” by NRC inspectors who said the failures existed “for many years and that the licensee [NextEra, FP&L, or Wepco] had seven prior opportunities to identify these inadequacies.” The failures and inaction were of “high safety significance (a Red finding)” under NRC rules. NRC inspectors found that Point Beach’s owners continuously compromised the auxiliary [cooling] feed-water pumps between 2001 and 2007.
Some unsafe operations, accidents, convictions and fines for violations against Point Beach owners and operators over the years include:
January 15, 2008
At Point Beach’s Unit 1, an “Unusual Event” emergency was prompted by the complete loss of all offsite electric power to essential buses for more than 15 minutes, mandating a notification of the NRC. A supply breaker opened “for unknown reasons,” was being investigated, and preparations were made for a Unit 1 shutdown. — Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Event No. 43907, January15, 2008
December 8, 2006
Point Beach’s the Control Room Emergency Filtration System was declared inoperable. The Control Room Charcoal Filter Fan tripped during a surveillance test, an event or condition that could have prevented the filter’s performance during a contamination emergency or, in the NRC’s words, “could have prevented fulfillment of a safety function.” — Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Event No. 43040, Dec. 8, 2006
August 22, 2006
In an August 22, 2006 letter to Point Beach, the NRC charged that a senior reactor operator was discriminated against by the company’s management for identifying potential technical violations. The discrimination was an apparent violation of employee protection requirements. — Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Point Beach Summary,” Inspection Procedure 95002, <nrc.gov/reactors/operating/ops-experience/degraded-cornerstone/pt-beach-summary.html>
December 16, 2005
Point Beach paid a $60,000 fine imposed January 13, 2006 after two workers “deliberately provided NRC inspectors with inaccurate information” about the critique of an emergency preparedness drill at a Point Beach reactor in August 2002. The two were fired, and one was convicted in federal court of knowingly making false written statements to the NRC. — Nuclear Regulatory Commission News, No. III-05-046, Dec. 19, 2005
December 13, 2005
A manual reactor trip shut down reactor Unit 1, due to loss of a condenser vacuum caused by failure of the running circulating water pump. Decay heat was being removed by “atmospheric dump valves.” The backup feed-water system was required. The operator then, Florida Power & Light, said there are no known steam generator tube leak issues. — Notification to Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dec. 13, 2005
November 9, 2004
While operating at 100 percent power, reactor Unit 2 sprang a steam leak from a valve in the main steam-flow transmitter. The leak of potentially contaminated steam forced an unplanned shutdown. The leak involved what is called “containment penetration” of the main steam line passing through the concrete containment building. Accordingly, operators declared a Technical Specification Condition “not met,” forcing operators to isolate the “affected penetration flow path with a completion time of 72 hours.” Operators were unable to meet the allowed completion time for this task. — Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Event No. 41212, Notification, Nov. 19, 2004
April 8, 2004
Point Beach paid a $60,000 imposed March 20, for last summer’s problems with the reactor’s backup cooling pumps. — The Capital Times, March 20, 2004
February 11, 2004
The ongoing risk of a breakdown in Point Beach’s cooling feed-water pumps results in a NRC “RED” finding, the agency’s most severe safety failure warning. — Nuclear Regulatory Commission News, Feb. 11, 2004
November 18, 1997
Point Beach reactor Unit 2 was hastily shut down because of electrical problems. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 18, 1997
August 12, 1997
The NRC recorded 21 violations at Point Beach in the 90-day period between Dec. 1996 and Feb. 1997. — St. Paul Pioneer Press, Aug. 12, 1997
July 25, 1997
Reactor Unit 2 at Point Beach was shut down when a cooling water pump failed. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 25, 1997
Point Beach owner WEPCO was fined $325,000 for 16 safety violations, and a 1996 explosion inside a loaded high-level waste cask. The NRC said WEPCO was “inattentive to their duties,” had “starting up a power unit while one of its safety systems was inoperable,” and had failed to install “the required number of cooling pumps.” — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 12, 1997, and Dec. 5, 1996
May 28, 1996
A potentially catastrophic explosion of hydrogen gas, “powerful enough to up-end the three-ton lid,” pushed aside a 6,390-pound cask lid while it was atop a radioactive waste storage cask filled with high-level waste. The lid was being robotically welded to the cask. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 8, 1995
March 30, 1995
A Point Beach reactor was shut down due to instrument failure in the emergency generator system which is used to circulate cooling water when regular power is cut off during emergencies.— Wisconsin State Journal, March 30, 1995
* A small reactor at La Crosse was shut-down since 1987, and a smaller research reactor operates on the Univ. of Wisconsin campus in Madison.