COVID-19 Strikes Control Rooms at Millstone Units 2 and 3; Dangers Cloaked in Secrecy

As of April 24, 2020 or sooner, the State of Connecticut knew that some of the 11 Millstone employees who had just tested positive for COVID-19 are licensed operators who work in crews in the Unit 2 and 3 control rooms.

Federal and state regulators withheld this information from the public.

The Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone obtained the information through a Freedom of Information request.

The presence of the highly contagious COVID-19 in control room operators did not deter Millstone from entering its scheduled refueling outage at Unit 2 on April 24.

Nor did federal or state authorities take steps to suspend the refueling outage in which some 750 contractors from diverse out-of-state locations were scheduled to participate.

During the weekslong outage, critical deferred maintenance, inspections and tests are performed while the reactor is shut down for refueling. It is a period of high radiation releases. The outage is still underway, according to information on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website.

Connecticut’s top liaison with Diminion, DEEP radiation bureau chief Jeffrey Semancik, emailed a cheery greeting to Dominion contacts on April 20 as follows: “Good luck with the start of the outage!”

Semancik knew as early as April 13 that a Millstone employee had tested positive for COVID-19- a number that had expanded to 11 by April 24, according to the emails.

News of the COVID-19 outbreak at Millstone was withheld from the public until May 4, when an article appeared in The New London Day newspaper revealing that 11 Millstone workers had tested positive for COVID-19. The article did not reveal that COVID-19 had invaded the control rooms at both Units 2 and 3.

Although the official line of the NRC is that the control rooms have sufficient space for social distancing, the Semancik emails paint a different picture.

In an April 26 email, Semancik wrote:

“Millstone is an interesting case. The control room must be staffed 24/7 by a limited number of licensed operators. While they try to maintain social distancing, there are space limits. They also have to manipulate switches that can’t be easily cleaned due to concerns about inadvertent actuation.”

Prior to assuming his position as head of the state’s radiation bureau Semancik worked as a control room operator at Millstone Unit 3.

The Millstone Unit 2 federal license requires that at least four licensed operators be assigned to the control room 24/7. Under the federal scheme, control room operators are certified for individual nuclear power plants.

“The NRC and the State of Connecticut have enabled the profit-driven Dominion to push Millstone beyond the edge of safety during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and exposed the public to unacceptable risk,” said Nancy Burton, director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone.

“We call on Governor Lamont to activate his power and authority in this continuing public health emergency to effect a stand down and suspension of the Millstone 2 refueling outage,” she said.

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