ST. FRANCISVILLE — Entergy Corp. will apply any lessons learned from studies of the recent Japanese nuclear plant disaster to the continued safe operation of the River Bend nuclear power plant, officials said this week.
Employees on Thursday observed the 25th anniversary of the start of commercial operations at West Feliciana Parish plant, one of two nuclear power plants in Louisiana.
“For 25 years, the employees of River Bend have carried through on a promise to operate in a safe and responsible manner. We greatly value the trust of the public and our place in the community,” Site Vice President Eric Olson said.
Jerry Roberts, River Bend’s nuclear safety assurance director, said the staff is working with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and industry groups to evaluate safety issues applicable to River Bend that may be discovered in studying damage to the Fukushima Daiichi plant earlier this year.
“We’re keeping up with everything we can learn from that,” Roberts said.
An NRC task force studying the Japanese plant reported Wednesday that U.S. requirements do not address the failure of all onsite and offsite electrical power to plants for a long period of time.
The Japanese plant was hit by a double whammy — an earthquake and tsunami — that left it without outside power and its emergency diesel generators.
River Bend generates 978 megawatts of electricity at full power, or about 10 percent of Louisiana’s total energy demand, according to company literature. It is licensed for operations through August 2025.
The plant was built by Gulf States Utilities Co., a company then operating in Texas and Louisiana, with Cajun Electric Power Cooperative as a 30 percent partner in the $4.5 billion project.
GSU merged with Entergy Corp. in a $2.3 billion deal that was completed on Dec. 31, 1993, making Entergy the second-largest utility system in the nation. Plans for Entergy’s purchase of the smaller company were announced in June 1992.
Although the nuclear plant had been running at full power before June 16, 1986, the Public Utility Commission of Texas did not declare it in commercial operation on that date until Nov. 14, 1986.
The decision cleared the way for GSU to seek rate increases in Texas and Louisiana because the plant was considered to be supplying power to the company’s distribution system.
Olson joked during an outdoor program in Thursday’s mid-90s heat that the celebration would have been nicer had GSU begun commercial operations in March instead of June.
James Booker, a retired GSU employee, told the River Bend employees and retirees that GSU’s senior vice president asked him in 1972 to join the company’s new “nuclear group.”
“At that time, there were only two people there, so I was the third person to join the group,” he said, adding he was asked to be the team’s quality assurance manager.
A few months later, Booker said, he was asked to head up the effort to obtain a construction license and other permits from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Early in the licensing process, engineers determined that soil on the site, to a depth of 60 to 70 feet, possibly could liquefy in the event of an earthquake of sufficient magnitude, and the soil had to be removed, Booker said.
GSU stopped work on the plant in 1975, after the Louisiana Public Service Commission, rejected a rate increase, but work resumed in 1979, he said.
GSU, a newcomer to the nuclear field, was nearly forced into bankruptcy because of cost overruns and problems in maintaining the plant, as well as lengthy court battles with the state Public Service Commission over rate increases.
In 1992, the plant shut down for six months for refueling but also to make major, critical repairs at a total cost of $151 million.
The work included sending a diver into the reactor vessel to repair a welding crack in a connection between outside piping and the reactor. One of the largest projects was cleaning, repairing and replacing corroded pipes in the plant’s cooling water system, the source of coolant for 21 components that support the reactor.
Problems continued, however, leading to GSU issuing a cease-work order in August 1993, except for activities needed to keep the plant safely shut down and within federal regulations.
With the merger slowly proceeding, GSU also put three Entergy employees — Harold W. Keiser, John McGaha and Mike Sellman — in charge of the plant to begin a slow turnaround in the plant’s reliability and performance.
The plant has not experienced any major difficulties since Entergy took over its operations.
Although criticized for its construction and operations costs, the plant has been a boon to rural West Feliciana Parish. River Bend is its largest taxpayer, and its sales and property taxes have funded many school and government projects in the parish. The plant’s industrial property tax exemption expired in 1996.
Olson said River Bend provides approximately 700 jobs in the community and “is known world-wide for its commitment to safe operations and the legacy of community leadership.”