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Some Nuke Plants Still Need Y2K Work

July 8, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says reports from all 103 commercial U.S. nuclear power plants indicate that there are no Y2K-related problems directly affecting the performance of safety systems.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., questioned the findings, saying the agency should be ready to shut down any plant later this year that isn’t fully prepared for a possible Year 2000 problem.

``We must not risk a nuclear accident in order to keep these plants running,″ said Markey, a persistent NRC critic.

The Y2K problem, or millennium bug, may occur in computers and microchips programmed to recognize only the last two digits of a year; they may malfunction if they misread the year 2000 as 1900.

The NRC said Wednesday that 68 plants have indicated that all their computer systems that support safe plant operation are ``Y2K ready.″

The other 35 plants reported that they have additional work to complete on a few non-safety computer systems or devices to be fully ready and provided schedules for completing the work, the NRC said.

Of the 35, about a third have work remaining on systems needed for power generation, the NRC said. Other plants need to complete work related to plant monitoring and administrative systems.

``None of the remaining work affects the ability of a plant to shut down safely, if needed,″ said a statement released by the agency.

Markey said almost any plant system that affects the ability of operators to monitor and control nuclear plants could affect safety, even if it’s not directly safety related.

He said plants could ``be dark on New Year’s″ if schedules slip or if further testing reveals new problems.

Also, claims of Y2K readiness by plants may only indicate that utilities know how to keep the plants running, such as by setting clocks back, and not necessarily that all computer programs will work properly, Markey said.

Last week, the lawmaker questioned Y2K preparedness at nuclear plants after the NRC revealed that both emergency generators at New Hampshire’s Seabrook plant were technically considered inoperable at the same time for about a week, sometime between June 1997 and March 1999.

One of the generators was out for routine maintenance and testing. The other was functioning properly but considered inoperable because its automatic switches malfunctioned. Operators could have hooked up the generator manually, if needed.

Another NRC report on Y2K readiness, based on on-site visits to all nuclear plants over the past three months, is due by the end of the month.

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