NRC: Nuclear industry Y2K ready

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has concluded there are no Y2K problems affecting the ability of nuclear power plants to safely shut down. However, that assessment met with skepticism from one watchdog group that says the NRC is exerting only minimal oversight.

The NRC on Tuesday reported that 75 of the nation's 103 nuclear power plants have completed all their Y2K repairs. The remaining 28 plants have additional work on non-safety-related systems or components that support plant operations and administrative functions. There are no Y2K problems affecting the operation of safety systems, the NRC said.

Mary Olson, the Y2K specialist at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, said the NRC isn't doing enough. Plant operators "aren't required to do anything except for a self-report to the NRC on their Y2K status -- It's just a checklist," she said.

Beth Hayden, a spokeswoman at the NRC, defended the NRC's Y2K review process and said each of the 103 nuclear plants has an NRC inspector stationed full-time. Plant safety systems have undergone "a fairly rigorous review," she said.

The Y2K work remaining at these plants isn't safety-related, but concerns power generation and administrative information systems, said Hayden.

Of the plants with work remaining, two aren't expected to complete repairs until late in the year. Farley Unity 2 in Dothan, Alabama, will finish its work December 16, and the Comanche Peak 1 plant in Glen Rose, Texas, won't be done until November 30, according to the NRCreport.

The NRC also said a follow-up review of the Y2K status of the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Neb., found that plant had not completed its 115-page integrated contingency plan even though it was reported as Y2K ready on July 1. The NRC put the plant in "not Y2K ready" status for the September 1 report.

Jack Dillich, the Y2K coordinator at the nuclear plant operator, Nebraska Power District, said the company had been upfront and told the NRC in June that the contingency plan hadn't been completed. "We were very specific where we stood, and that's what prompted them to call us," he said. The contingency plan has since been completed, he added.

Dillich said he isn't worried about the Y2K capability of his plant. Like many of the nuclear power plants, it uses 1960s technology that has few Y2K vulnerabilities, he said. "The vulnerability is less than most coal-fired plants," he said.

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