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Agency: Palisades safer but culture flaws linger

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SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (AP) — The Palisades Nuclear Plant's operators have improved their safety performance, but work culture problems persist at the Lake Michigan shoreline facility, a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said Thursday.

The safety agency held a public meeting Thursday night to discuss its new assessment of the southeastern Michigan plant. It was held in South Haven, about 5 miles from the plant in Van Buren County's Covert Township.

Before the meeting, commission Regional Administrator Cynthia Pederson told The Associated Press that her agency's recent assessment found positive changes in operations at the plant but also some ongoing issues.

The plant is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. and has had numerous shutdowns in recent years. It was downgraded in 2012 to a category designating the nation's worst-performing nuclear plants. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission moved Palisades back to the list of top performers the same year, and it remained there in the most recent assessment.

"We have observed improved performance overall at this location," Pederson said in a telephone interview.

The persistent concerns involve what a recent commission letter to plant operators referred to as a "chilled work environment," Pederson said.

"We as a regulatory body do not regulate culture. We regulate performance," she said. And in that regard, she said Palisades' operators are doing better.

But what is needed is a clear understanding that people at the bottom of the command structure feel free to report issues to higher-ups, Pederson said.

Any kind of issue must be "raised freely at very low levels," she said.

Plant spokeswoman Lindsay Rose told the Kalamazoo Gazette that the company was prepared to address the management culture question.

"We're committed to creating a work environment where there's a free flow of information, and where our employees feel free to raise concerns and be confident that their concerns will be addressed," she said.

The plant was taken offline last week but went back online at 2:40 p.m. Thursday. The 5 ½-day scheduled shutdown was to replace a primary coolant pump seal, Rose told AP in an email.

"Our equipment monitoring efforts revealed that one of the four layers ... of the seal had not been performing to its fullest, so we proactively shut down and have replaced the seal," she said.

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Online:

Plant details: http://bit.ly/13i0ToD

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

Entergy: http://www.entergy.com

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