Feds direct nuclear plants to provide catastrophic emergency plans
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How would nuclear power plants in the United States safely handle the kind of catastrophic destruction caused by something like the earthquake and tsunami that damaged such facilities in Japan in early March?
That's what the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to know, and it issued a special directive Wednesday asking all of the nation's nuclear power plants to provide that information by July 11.
The NRC has already gathered information on how nuclear power plants would cool down reactor cores and spent fuel pools if the plants' safety systems are damaged or unavailable. Now it wants more details about operator training, available emergency equipment and arrangements with local emergency responders, said Eric Leeds, director of the NRC's office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.
"These strategies and resources are an important part of the multi-layered approach the NRC requires so plants can maintain or restore their abilities for core cooling, containment integrity, and spent fuel pool cooling even as they lose large areas of the plant, for instance after an explosion or fire," Mr. Leeds said.
The nuclear power plant owners have until June 10 to provide the NRC with information about mitigative strategies and equipment available for use by plant staff. By July 11, they must submit information about the equipment maintenance and testing and cooperative arrangements with off-site emergency, fire and medical organizations.
"We'll review the plants' responses to see if they need to take any additional actions to meet our existing requirements, along with seeing what the NRC might need to do to enhance those requirements and continue to protect public health and safety," said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko, who added that information about emergency responses to the Japan quake will also be used in the commission's review.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's policy organization, said recently that completed site reviews at every nuclear plant, as well as items identified by those reviews and included in a plant's "corrective action program," will be the basis for providing the information requested by the NRC.
"The U.S. nuclear energy industry recognizes that we are accountable to independent oversight authorities and to the American people," said Tony Pietrangelo, the NEI's chief nuclear officer and senior vice president.
"We must demonstrate that our facilities are fully prepared to maintain safety even in cases where we have made protective enhancements that go beyond the NRC's regulatory requirements."
Todd Schneider, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, owner of the Beaver Valley Power Station Units 1 and 2, located along the Ohio River 22 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, said the power plants completed the industry-initiated site reviews and those will serve as templates for the NRC reports.
"We have identified some improvement opportunities and entered those into the corrective action program," said Mr. Schneider, who declined to be more specific but classified them as "minor issues."
"We're on top of those issues," he said, "because safe and reliable operations are our top priority."
Neil Sheehan, NRC spokesman, said the commission could release specifics about individual power plant corrective action program findings, done as part of the industry site reviews, as early as Friday.
First Published May 12, 2011 12:00 am