Three Mile Island plant reaccredited

HARRISBURG (AP) -- Three Mile Island has been reaccredited by a nuclear industry group after improving its training programs for control-room operators and other staff.
The National Nuclear Accrediting Board, which reviews training programs at commercial nuclear plants, found problems with the plant's programs and put it on probation in December.
Last year, a quarter of the plant's control room operating crews failed a test of their ability to safely shut down the nuclear reactor under adverse conditions.
The plant's owner, AmerGen Energy Co., responded by making 450 adjustments to its training and corrective action programs and all crews passed the test in 2005.
The accrediting board renewed TMI's accreditation Wednesday for four years.
Making changes
The board reports its findings to the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, an industry-policing body established after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island; the partial meltdown in the Unit 2 reactor remains the nation's worst nuclear accident.
The institute's plant ratings carry weight in the commercial nuclear industry, in part because they are used to set insurance rates for the plants.
Company officials acknowledged the accrediting board's criticisms and worked to turn them around, AmerGen spokesman Ralph DeSantis said.
"Everyone was disappointed with being placed on probation," he said. "We know that we kind of lost focus."
Staffing problems
Union officials and other groups blamed the training problems on staffing cuts at the plant.
The number of employees has been cut more than 30 percent since 1999, when Chicago-based Exelon Corp. bought Three Mile Island's Unit 1 from GPU Nuclear Corp. Unit 2 hasn't been used since the 1979 accident.
Eric Epstein, chairman of Harrisburg-based watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, said there has been high turnover among trainers at Three Mile Island and that Exelon, owner of AmerGen, failed to address the problem.
The company has denied that staff reductions played a role in the plant being put on probation, but DeSantis said it did need to do more to have replacements ready to assume vacated training posts.
"We did have some training instructors take early retirement and we did not do a good job of having a pipeline to replace those people," he said.

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