Originally created 12/20/96

Commission deciding whether to sanction Plant Vogtle after safety breach



ATLANTA - A safety breach at Georgia Power Co.'s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant was quickly caught and never posed a threat to the public, company officials assured the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday.

A worker found a cooling system problem during a routine inspection at the Waynesboro nuclear power plant earlier this fall and work began immediately to fix it, Georgia Power representative C.W. McCoy told the commission.

A ruling on whether Georgia Power will be sanctioned for the mishap is expected sometime next month, said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.

The damaged emergency core cooling system was one of several backup systems to protect the nuclear reactor and would have been a threat only if a major accident occurred and all the other cooling systems failed, Mr. Hannah said.

A motor cooler was assembled improperly, resulting in a failure to provide coolant to the pipe connected to the emergency core cooling system, according to Georgia Power.

Mr. McCoy praised the worker who found the problem by detecting a pipe 14 degrees hotter than the surrounding pipes, and said he will make sure workers are trained to find such problems.

"This is a pretty subtle thing. It's not intuitively obvious," Mr. McCoy said. "What we want to stress in our plant is that questioning attitude."

Companies with major violations, a severity level four, can face up to $100,000 in fines.

Georgia Power emphasized that the violation was minor and reported immediately.

"We would like to have it pointed out we did find the violation and reported it. We don't feel like there were any health or safety concerns to the public," said Georgia Power spokesman Rick Kimble.

The company was cited in June for violating two employee safety rules, but the company claimed no enforcement action should have been taken without more fact-gathering. The U.S. Labor Department later found in both cases that former Plant Vogtle employees were discriminated against for raising safety concerns.