Changes Needed at U.S. Nuclear Plantsby Associated Press and Herald staff
Tri-City Herald, July 14, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Calling the Japan nuclear disaster "unacceptable," an expert task force convened by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that nuclear power plants in the U.S. need better protections for rare, catastrophic events.
The series of recommendations will reset the level of protection at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl by making them better prepared for incidents that they were not initially designed to handle.
The panel will tell the commission that nuclear plant operators should be ordered to re-evaluate their earthquake and flood risk, add equipment to address simultaneous damage to multiple reactors and make sure electrical power and instruments are in place to monitor and cool spent fuel pools after a disaster.
The report did not look at specific plants, including Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station near Richland.
The NRC said that the 12 steps recommended in the report would "increase safety and redefine what level of protection to public health is regarded as adequate."
The three-month investigation was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that cut off all electrical power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, resulting in core damage at multiple reactors, the loss of cooling at spent fuel pools, hydrogen explosions and radioactive releases into the environment.
The task force said that there is no imminent risk to public health and the environment from operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. But its members admit that the current patchwork of regulations is not given equal consideration or treatment by power plant operators or by the NRC, during its technical reviews and inspections.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the House natural resources panel, urged the commission to move quickly to adopt the recommendations of the task force, saying "America's nuclear fleet remains vulnerable to a similar disaster."
But Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate environment committee, said such sweeping changes were premature.
"Changes in our system may be necessary," Inhofe said, but "a nuclear accident in Japan should not be automatically be viewed as an indictment of U.S. institutional structures and nuclear safety requirements."
The massive Gulf oil spill last year led to a temporary moratorium on deep-water oil and gas exploration. However, U.S. nuclear regulators have said repeatedly post-Japan that the nation's nuclear power plants are safe and should continue operating. Yet, as details about the Japan disaster began to emerge, so too did possible areas of improvement in emergency preparedness at the U.S. plants.
After the Japan incident, the NRC ordered inspections at all nuclear plants to see if they were complying with requirements put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to deal with extreme accidents. Inspectors found some minor problems, like wrong phone numbers for emergency personnel, a lack of training and buildings housing equipment that couldn't withstand a natural disaster. But none of the issues would jeopardize safety, the NRC said.
The nuclear energy industry cited those results as reason not to jump to conclusions.
At a public meeting in June, the NRC's chairman, Gregory Jaczko, specifically questioned why the U.S. isn't better prepared to deal with a prolonged station blackout, a situation in which electrical power and back-up emergency power are lost. That is what happened in Japan after the tsunami wiped out diesel generators.
In the U.S., nuclear power plants are only required to cope for four to eight hours, the length of time batteries would last. After that, power is assumed to be restored.
The task force is recommending that each operating plant and new reactor be required to deal with a complete loss of electrical power for eight hours, and be able to provide cooling to the radioactive core and spent fuel pool for 72 hours.
They want earthquake and flood risks to be updated after 10 years, to account for the latest science. In addition, they want rules requiring more hands-on training and exercises for emergencies and plans to deal with disasters that strike multiple reactors at a plant. Most emergency guidelines now only deal with problems at a single reactor.
The report will be formally presented to the full commission next week. NRC staff will continue to examine the safety of nuclear power in the U.S. as part of a six-month investigation.
Reuters Factbox: U.S. nuclear reactors similar to Fukushima
July 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. nuclear industry's top cop is to weigh major changes in how it regulates the country's 104 reactors after Japan's Fukushima disaster, a move that will help shape the future of the power source and could lead to significant cost increases.
A task force recommended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission look at a fundamental shift in how it plans for catastrophes like the earthquake and tsunami that swamped the Fukushima plant in March, the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
Now it is up to the five-member commission to decide which ideas to accept and how quickly to proceed in an industry where plant retrofits can run into the millions.
The NRC task force recommended requiring reliable hardened vent designs in boiling water reactors with the General Electric (GE.N) designed Mark I and Mark II containment types, the same as the damaged Fukushima reactors.
In the United States, 31 of the 104 operating reactors have the Mark I or Mark II containment type. The following lists those reactors, according to data from the NRC:Reactor Location Size (MW) Year Design ENERGY NORTHWEST Columbia Richland, WA 1190 1984 Mark II TVA Browns Ferry 1 Decatur, AL 1065 1974 Mark I Browns Ferry 2 Decatur, AL 1104 1975 Mark I Browns Ferry 3 Decatur, AL 1105 1977 Mark I PROGRESS ENERGY (PGN.N) Brunswick 1 Southport, NC 938 1977 Mark I Brunswick 2 Southport, NC 920 1975 Mark I NEBRASKA PUBLIC POWER DISTRICT Cooper Nebraska City, NE 770 1974 Mark I EXELON (EXC.N) Dresden 2 Morris, IL 867 1970 Mark I Dresden 3 Morris, IL 867 1971 Mark I LaSalle 1 Marseilles, IL 1118 1982 Mark II LaSalle 2 Marseilles, IL 1120 1983 Mark II Limerick 1 Limerick, PA 1134 1985 Mark II Limerick 2 Limerick, PA 1134 1989 Mark II Oyster Creek Toms River, NJ 615 1969 Mark I Peach Bottom 2 Lancaster, PA 1112 1974 Mark I Peach Bottom 3 Lancaster, PA 1112 1974 Mark I Quad Cities 1 Moline, IL 867 1972 Mark I Quad Cities 2 Moline, IL 867 1972 Mark I NEXTERA ENERGY (NEE.N) Duane Arnold Cedar Rapids, IA 580 1975 Mark I SOUTHERN (SO.N) Hatch 1 Baxley, GA 876 1975 Mark I Hatch 2 Baxley, GA 883 1979 Mark I DTE ENERGY (DTE.N) Fermi 2 Monroe, MI 1122 1988 Mark I PSEG (PEG.N) Hope Creek Hancock's Brdg, NJ 1161 1986 Mark I ENTERGY (ETR.N) Fitzpatrick Oswego, NY 854 1976 Mark I Pilgrim Plymouth, MA 685 1972 Mark I Vermont Yankee Vernon, VT 620 1972 Mark I XCEL (XEL.N) Monticello Monticello, MN 572 1971 Mark I CONSTELLATION (CEG.N) Nine Mile Point 1 Oswego, NY 621 1969 Mark I Nine Mile Point 2 Oswego, NY 1140 1987 Mark II PPL (PPL.N) Susquehanna 1 Salem, PA 1149 1982 Mark II Susquehanna 2 Salem, PA 1140 1984 Mark II(Reuters Reporting by Eileen O'Grady in Houston, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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