Arizona Public Service has revised the scope of Palo Verde Generating Station's planned refueling and maintenance outage of its Unit 2 reactor in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The refueling had been scheduled for early April, according to a filing submitted March 20 to the Arizona Corporation Commission [AU-00000A-20-0050].
Reactors must be reloaded every 18 to 24 months in routine planned outages. Maintenance is typically scheduled for the spring and the fall, when energy demand is lowest, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Nuclear Energy Institute President Maria Korsnick on March 20 sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette asking for support from President Donald Trump's administration as dozens of nuclear energy plants across the country prepare for refueling shutdowns. "The reactors typically shut down for two to four weeks of intense work, including maintenance that can only be performed while the reactor is not operating," Korsnick said in the letter.
To perform these activities, plants bring in hundreds of specialized workers, many of whom stay in hotels and eat at local restaurants. Korsnick included in her letter an appeal to maintain hotel and food services for these temporary workers.
Hotels and restaurants offering carry-out were included in Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's list of essential services that may stay open across the state during the COVID-19 crisis. However, many hotels and restaurants have closed temporarily as travel has all but halted during a usually busy tourism season.
APS in the filing announced that all work requiring temporary workers is delayed. "That reduction is due to our focus on limiting exposure to the virus, helping to slow its spread and protecting our employees who perform essential roles in providing the critical service of keeping the power on for customers," APS spokeswoman Jill Hanks told California Energy Markets in an email.
"With this revision, only work that is absolutely required for refueling the unit to safely and reliably operate for the next 18 months will be conducted, which includes the summers of 2020 and 2021. Work requiring the employment of a significant number of temporary contractors has been removed from the outage scope, and deferring that work will not compromise reliability," the utility said in its filing.
Korsnick also requested that the Trump administration provide priority personal protective equipment, such as surgeon's gloves and dust masks, for the nuclear workforce, who wear them in routine operations. The World Health Organization in a March 3 news release said rising demand, hoarding and misuse have created a severe global shortage of protective equipment needed for healthcare workers responding to the pandemic. "Only employees with a critical need to be at Palo Verde Generating Station are working on site and they have the PPE needed to perform their essential roles," Hanks told CEM.
"We continue to work with the [Trump] administration and state and local officials to ensure refueling outages continue as planned and the critical workforce needed for such outages receives the support necessary for ongoing operations," an NEI spokesperson told CEM in an email. "Their work is essential to the continued operations of our nation's nuclear plants and keeping the power on during this national pandemic."
The next planned outage at Palo Verde will be in early October for the Unit 1 reactor. Hanks told CEM that APS is "in close contact with other nuclear utilities through NEI to share best practices, resources and expertise."