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Nuclear Plants' Y2K Repairs Delayed

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 1999; Page E3

Six of the nation's nuclear power plants will not finish their year 2000 computer repairs until just weeks before the year ends, but none of the systems they need to fix involve safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said yesterday.

The disclosure of the late finish for Y2K repairs came in testimony to a special Senate committee monitoring the so-called millennium bug and prompted expressions of concern from the panel's leaders, Sens. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).

"Setting a late deadline for Y2K readiness in a nuclear power plant may not allow enough time to address unforeseen problems in such an immensely complex and potentially dangerous facility," Bennett said.

Dodd said power plants should not "wait until the last minute and then hope for the best. It is essential that there be adequate time left so systems can be tested in order to assure a safe and continuous power supply."

In general, technology experts have advised businesses and government agencies to give themselves a cushion of several months to test repairs and deal with any project delays. The government, for example, set a March 31 deadline for completion of Y2K work by federal agencies.

Of the six plants finishing late, the NRC said three would complete Y2K work in November, and the other three would finish by mid-December. Overall, 30 of the nation's 103 nuclear power plants still have Y2K repairs underway, with most scheduled to finish their fixes in September and October.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricus said the regulatory agency did not think the six plants scheduled for November and December fixes were running too late since their problems do not involve safety systems.

But, he added, "Those plants that are not certified Y2K ready are getting increased scrutiny, and the level of our regulatory oversight will be increased, if necessary, on a case-by-case basis."

Dricus said the NRC would retain the option of halting operations at any nuclear power plant that does not complete its Y2K work by year's end. "It may not affect day-to-day operation of the plant, but it is still important that they be Y2K-compliant. . . . We have reassured Congress and the public that we are going to deal with the problem effectively," he said.

Dricus said the Y2K repairs at the six plants involved electronic devices that monitor water feeds, turbine operations, weather and similar systems. In most cases, the Y2K repairs can only be performed when the plants are shut down, he said.

The NRC identified the six plants as two DC Cook plants in Berrien County, Mich.; Brunswick Unit 1 near Wilmington, N.C.; Comanche Peak Unit 1 in Sommervell County, Tex.; Salem Unit 1 in Salem County, N.J.; and Farley Unit 2 near Dothan, Ala.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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