TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission began a special inspection Monday of the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan, which has experienced a series of safety problems over the past year.
The eight inspectors will spend a couple of weeks at the plant on the Lake Michigan shore, agency spokeswoman Prema Chandrathril said. They will determine whether operators have corrected mistakes — one of which caused a weeklong shutdown — that caused the plant's performance rating to be downgraded earlier this year.
Also under review is the general safety culture at Palisades, a 41-year-old electricity generator in Van Buren County's Covert Township, owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.
"We will bring a magnifying lens and look at areas where the plant has had problems to see what changes they have made," Chandrathil said.
Palisades' nuclear reactor shut down for a week late last September because of a short circuit that resulted from contact between two pieces of metal inside a breaker panel, which the NRC blamed on staff errors.
In another instance, a water pump that cools safety equipment failed because of a crack in one of the couplings that hold together rods in the cooling system. The same failure happened in 2009, and the commission said an inspection showed the plant had not done enough to prevent a recurrence.
During a January meeting, NRC regional director Cynthia Peterson said the plant's performance was "very troubling." Company officials promised improvements.
"We believe we have the issues resolved and are prepared for the inspection," Palisades spokesman Mark Savage said Monday.
The NRC places each of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. in one of five categories based on their safety record. Most are in the top-performing group.
Palisades was bumped to the No. 2 category in January and the following month fell to the third. Five other reactors around the nation are in the third category. The only reactor that ranks lower, in Alabama, is in the fourth category.
If a plant were dropped to the fifth category, it would be shut down and could reopen only if with NRC approval.
When the Palisades inspection is finished, NRC experts will produce a report that will determine whether the plant's rating will go up, down or stay the same.