The oft-criticized Turkey Point nuclear plant was removed Thursday from a federal list of problem sites, but the utility's good news was marred by charges that it tried to force an inspector to fake safety reports. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced in Baltimore that Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) had shown "sustained improvement" in its operation of the two Turkey Point reactor units.
Until recently, the reactors had consistently been among those receiving the most fines in the United States. Last year, Turkey Point was identified as the nation's worst commercial nuclear plant by the Ralph Nader-linked Public Citizen group.
FPL has announced it will shut the nuclear units down later this year for a year of reforms aimed at bringing the reactors up to industry standards.
Because of ongoing safety concerns, the NRC had kept Turkey Point on a special "watch list" for problem plants until Thursday, when the utility was told that the NRC's semiannual review had shown better management at the plant.
"The last period was characterized by successful and safe operations . . ." the NRC wrote James L. Broadhead, FPL's board chairman and chief executive officer.
Executive vice president Jerry H. Goldberg said he was pleased by the announcement.
"This is an important step, but it's only the beginning of a concerted program to make FPL's nuclear program one of the safest and most efficient in the country," Goldberg said.
But anti-nuclear activist Joette Lorion blasted the NRC's decision, saying the agency acted only to avoid fulfilling its pledge to shut Turkey Point down if it showed up on the watch list one more time. She called the NRC a "paper tiger," and said there was insufficient change in the plant's management in six months to warrant the upgrade.
A cloud over the NRC announcement came from charges that a parts inspector at the plant, Steve Kennedy, had resigned after being ordered to sign safety reports even though he had not inspected the equipment. The order came as part of a drive to hurry repairs during a fueling outage that began Feb. 4, according to fired FPL technician Thomas Saporito of Jupiter, who has campaigned to shut down the plant.
Saporito said the contract employee who was to replace Kennedy, Al Pitts of Stone & Webster, refused to take the job unless Kennedy's concerns were addressed.
NRC Atlanta spokesman Ken Clark confirmed a complaint was received and was under investigation, but said he could not discuss specifics.
FPL spokesman Ray Golden called Saporito's claims "exaggerated
While saying he could not reveal names, Golden noted that "the employee in question did not contact the NRC over his concerns," but rather referred to them in a resignation letter.
It was FPL's own whistleblower protection organization that contacted the employee, Golden said, adding that the utility and the NRC have been in contact about the problem.