- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PHOENIX (AP) - The nation’s largest nuclear power plant has made “substantial improvements” since a number of safety issues led regulators to downgrade its safety rating three years ago, according to a letter released Tuesday by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, 50 miles west of Phoenix, has had the lowest safety rating of any licensed U.S. reactor since 2006, when inspectors found that an emergency backup generator had been inoperative for 18 days and unreliable for 40 days. Inspectors found several other safety problems in the two years before that.

The lowered rating triggered more stringent oversight by regulators.

In a letter to a senior plant official that was made public Tuesday, the commission wrote that the plant had made “significant progress” in addressing its concerns.

The commission wrote the plant had resolved five of 12 areas of concern. Its findings on the remaining seven areas of concern _ including problems with staff performance, engineering programs and emergency preparedness _ will be released later this month.

Commission spokesman Victor Dricks said Palo Verde must resolve the remaining seven concerns and show it can sustain the improvements before its rating on the five-tier grading system is raised. There is no deadline for a decision.

“This is good news,” said Randy Edington, executive vice president and chief nuclear officer of plant operator Arizona Public Service Co. “It’s showing good momentum and good direction. We’ve made some excellent gains, but we’re also focused on how we can continue to get better from here.”

Edington said the improvements have come ahead of schedule; he had hoped to have them by the end of this year. “We’re basically ahead of the plan,” he said.

Palo Verde supplies electricity to about 4 million customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California. It is run by APS for a consortium of power companies in the four states.

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On the Net:

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/

Arizona Public Service: http://www.aps.com/

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