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National Cyber Security Awareness Month – It’s For Everyone

Joan Rolf
Senior Cyber Security Coordinator
 

cybersecgraphicOctober is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and – before we head into November – it’s now a good time to remember the importance of cyber security. Cyber crime threatens our work, personal life, identity and privacy. Here at the NRC, we’re committed to protecting our internal digital assets and information, as well as ensuring that our regulated facilities’ critical digital systems of are well protected. This vigilance supports the NRC’s security and safety missions.

All NRC employees are required to complete annual training on computer security. Some of the concepts we teach our employees are useful for everyone:

  • Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized and secure by installing updates.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with your family, friends, and community about Internet safety.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online, and use privacy settings.
  • Be cautious about what you receive or read online; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The NRC ensures operating power reactor licensees and applicants seeking new licenses implement appropriate protections against cyber threats. Since 2009, the NRC has required each power plant to have a cyber security program in place to protect their computer and communications systems.

Over the last two years we have conducted more than 35 cyber security inspections and actively engaged licensees to ensure all identified issues are addressed. In the recently released “Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2014-2018,” we highlight the importance of cyber security guidance for nuclear power reactors, fuel cycle and spent fuel storage facilities, non-power reactors, decommissioned nuclear facilities, and materials licensees.

The NRC is developing a final rule, 10 CFR part 73.77, “Cyber Security Event Notifications,” which, if approved, will require timely notification of cyber security events. This rule is intended to improve the NRC’s ability to respond to cyber security-related plant events, enable the NRC to more effectively evaluate potential threats, and aid the NRC’s overall situational awareness.

reverse_cybersecgraphicIn our Cyber Security Directorate, part of the Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response, we continue to work with federal partners to protect the United States’ critical infrastructure. The NRC joins the Department of Homeland Security in its interagency and public-private efforts under the Sector Specific Agency Nuclear Sector. And we join with other government regulators on the newly-established Cyber Security Forum for Independent and Executive Branch Regulators, led by Chairman Allison Macfarlane. These partnerships strengthen our mutual knowledge base and provide agencies with an opportunity to share methods and approaches to enhance overall cyber security protection.

During Cyber Security Awareness Month, federal agencies are holding a variety of events to promote the conversation – among employees and the public – on this important topic. One of the most important things for our employees and our stakeholders to realize is the individual computer user is the first line of defense in cyber security.

NRC Employee Survey Shows Agency as a Top Performer

Miriam Cohen
Chief Human Capital Officer
 

Every year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management polls federal workers and asks how they feel about their jobs, their leaders and their work culture, among other things. And now the results of the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are in. How did the NRC do?

We’re happy to say the NRC remains as a top performer. NRC employees gave high marks to the agency in such categories as:

  • Quality of Hire Q21 – My work unit is able to recruit people with the right skills. (22.5 percent above the government average)
  • Resource Sufficiency Q9 – I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done. (21.9 percent above the government average)
  • High-Quality Recognition Q31 – Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services. (19.3 percent above the government average)

Answers Marked on TestThe NRC also remains above the government-wide average in all categories — with the largest increases over last year in favorable responses centering on training and our ability to recruit the right people with the right skills.   

We saw an increase this past year in pay and job satisfaction along with significant progress in the area of talent management, which generally means everything done to recruit, retain, develop, and reward employees. Leadership and Knowledge Management dropped a single percentage point. The rest of our scores either stayed the same or improved.

This is the second survey in which OPM scored agencies in diversity and inclusion, which includes questions that measure characteristics of an agency that improve diversity and inclusion, such as being fair, open, cooperative, supportive and empowering. The so-called “IQ Index” for the NRC increased slightly from last year and remains well above the government benchmark.

The Employee ViewPoint Survey is anonymous, web-based, and offered to all permanent NRC employees. This year, 68 percent of NRC employees completed the survey (about 2,467 respondents out of 3,624). 

Obtaining employee input and taking action based on this input is a key a component of our agency’s continuous improvement efforts and a major reason why we have a highly engaged workforce. As we have done in the past, the agency will analyze the survey results and identify focus areas. We believe that as a result of our collective efforts the NRC remains a great place to work. 

We’ve posted our results on the agency website.

NRC Science 101: How a Nuclear Reactor Generates Electricity

Paul Rebstock
Senior Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer
 

science_101_squeakychalkHow does a nuclear reactor generate electricity? Well — it doesn’t, really. Let’s begin at the end and see how it all fits together.

We begin by looking at an electric motor. A motor consists primarily of two major components: a stator, which stands still, and a rotor, which rotates within the stator. When electricity is applied to the motor, electromagnets within the stator and the rotor push and pull on each other in a way that causes the rotor to rotate. The magnets in the stator pull magnets in the rotor toward them, and then, as the rotor magnets pass by reverse themselves and push the rotor magnets away.

The parts are arranged so the pulling and pushing are all in the same direction, so the rotor spins inside the stator. The electrical energy applied to the motor results in mechanical energy in the rotor.

But that same machine can be used in reverse: If some outside force causes the rotor to spin, the interaction of the magnets causes electricity to be produced: the “motor” is now a “generator,” producing electrical energy as a result of the mechanical energy applied to its rotor. That’s the most common way to make large quantities of electricity.

So how do you make the rotor spin? That’s where the nuclear reactor comes in, although still indirectly. Recall that a nuclear reactor generates heat. The fuel rods get hot because of the nuclear reaction. That heat is used to boil water, and the steam from that boiling water is used to spin the rotor. As we have seen, when the rotor spins, electricity comes out of the stator.

When water boils, the steam that is produced occupies much more physical space than the water that produced it. So if you pump water through some sort of a heat source — like a nuclear reactor, or a coal‑fired boiler — that is hot enough to boil the water, the exiting steam will be travelling much faster than the water going in. That steam runs through a machine called a turbine, which acts something like a highly‑sophisticated windmill. The physical structure is vastly different from a windmill, and a large turbine can be far more powerful than any windmill that has ever been made, but the effect is somewhat the same: the steam, or wind, causes part of the machine to spin, and that spinning part can be connected to a generator to produce electricity.

The steam leaving the turbine is collected in a device called a condenser — essentially a metal box the size of a house, with thousands of pipes running through it. Cool water flows through the pipes, and the steam from the turbine is cooled and condenses back into water. Then the water is pumped back through the heater and the cycle continues.

Now, back to the nuclear reactor . . . We have seen how the reactor generates heat, and we have seen how heat is used to generate steam and how the steam then powers the turbine, which spins the generator that produces electricity. The final piece in the puzzle is how the heat from the nuclear reaction generates the steam.

bwrThe fuel rods are suspended in a water bath contained in a large metal container somewhat like a gigantic pressure cooker. A typical “reactor vessel” might be 15 feet in diameter and 20 feet high, and some are much larger than that. In some types of reactors, the water is allowed to boil, and the heat generated in the fuel rods is carried away in steam. These are called “boiling water reactors” (or “BWR”).

In others, the water is held at a very high pressure — on the order of 2000 pounds per square inch. (By the way, that is more than 60 times the pressure in the tires of a typical car.) In that situation, the water cannot expand and cannot boil. The water in that type of reactor carries the heat away while remaining liquid, and that heat is then transferred to another water system where the boiling occurs. This transfer takes place in a device aptly named a “steam generator.”

These are called “pressurized water reactors” (or “PWR”). A small PWR might have two steam generators. A large one might have four. Some have three. The steam from all of the steam generators is typically combined into a single “main steam line” that carries the steam to the turbine, so the reactor and all of the steam generators act together as a single steam source.

The water from the condenser is pumped directly into the reactor vessel for a BWR, or into the steam generators for a PWR.

So there you have it: the nuclear reaction heats the fuel, the fuel heats the water to make steam, the steam spins the turbine, the turbine turns the generator, and the generator makes electricity.

The author has a BS in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University.

Watts Bar – Making History In Yet Another Century

Jeanne Dion
Project Manager
Watts Bar Special Projects Branch
 

Unit 1 at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn., has a claim to fame as the last U.S. commercial nuclear reactor to come online in the 20th century. Now, the Tennessee Valley Authority aspires to have its sister reactor (Watts Bar Unit 2) make its own historic claim.

Numerous cranes helped complete construction of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 1 containment building in front of the plant’s cooling towers in 1977.

Numerous cranes helped complete construction of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 1 containment building in front of the plant’s cooling towers in 1977.

If the NRC concludes that the reactor is safe to operate and approves its operating license next year, Watts Bar Unit 2 could become the first new commercial nuclear reactor to come online in the U.S. in the 21st century.

To understand a little of the history of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, let’s rewind to a time when Schoolhouse Rock premiered and the first mobile phone call was made in New York City — a time predating the NRC. In 1973, the Atomic Energy Commission greenlighted construction of Watts Bar Units 1 and 2 under the “two-step licensing process,” where construction permits and operating licenses were issued separately.

In 1985, construction quality issues at its plants caused TVA to stop work at both Watts Bar Units. Eventually, TVA resolved the issues and completed construction of Unit 1, and the NRC issued its operating license in 1996.

Fast-forward to more recent activities. TVA decided in 2007 to reboot the Watts Bar Unit 2 construction and licensing process. They submitted an update to their original license application to the NRC in 2009.

Other recent applicants have elected to use the combined license application process, where we issue a single license to both construct and operate a nuclear power plant at a specific site. However, because of the unique history of Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA chose to continue under the two-step licensing process. So, NRC staff developed a regulatory framework and established a licensing approach tailored specifically to the project.

We updated our construction inspection program associated with the two-step licensing process to provide guidance that reflects current NRC practices. For example, the NRC staff identified areas for further inspection at Unit 2 by screening applicable communications, allegations and other open items in the review.

The NRC staff also developed inspection guidance specific to TVA’s refurbishment program, which replaces or refurbishes systems and components at Watts Bar Unit 2. TVA’s resolution of key safety issues and the continued progress of construction inspection activities drive our review schedule.

If the operating license is issued next year, the NRC’s job doesn’t just end. We’d continue to inspect start-up testing required for power ascension and to oversee that Unit 2 transitions into the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process before it can begin producing commercial power.

And, of course, the Resident Inspectors, the agency’s eyes and ears at the plant, would continue to carry out day-to-day inspection work to ensure safety and security is monitored and inspected during licensing and throughout the transition to commercial operation.

For more information about the Watts Bar Unit 2 project, visit the NRC’s website. There will be a Commission briefing Oct. 30 at 9 a.m. on the license application review. You get details about the briefing from the meeting notice. We’ll also do a live webcast.

Making Sure SAFER Resources Are Ready To Go

Jack Davis
Director, Japan Lessons Learned Division
 

mitigation_strategies_infographic_r4Part of the U.S. nuclear power industry’s response to the NRC’s post-Fukushima Mitigation Strategies Order involves emergency equipment centers in Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix, Ariz. The centers have multiple sets of generators, pumps and other equipment. The centers would send needed equipment to a U.S. nuclear plant to maintain safety functions indefinitely if an event disabled that plant’s installed safety systems.

The NRC’s been reviewing how an industry group, the Strategic Alliance for FLEX Emergency Response (SAFER), can move equipment from the response centers to plants. We observed two demonstrations SAFER ran in July and reviewed SAFER’s equipment, procedures, and deployment strategy. Overall, the NRC staff concludes that having the response centers and the group’s plans and procedures in place will enable plants to comply with the final phase of the Order.

The group has contracted with Federal Express (for both truck and aircraft shipment) to get supplies to a plant within 24 hours of a request. SAFER’s documentation of FedEx’s capabilities included a proven ability to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to get proper access to otherwise restricted airspace in the event that equipment must be flown to a nuclear power plant site. 

One SAFER demonstration sent equipment by road from Memphis to the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. The NRC staff noted some areas for improvement, such as clarifying who’s responsible for unloading equipment at a site or where the equipment’s first tank of fuel will come from. SAFER responded by adding details to its plans and beefing up its training program.

The other demonstration simulated airlift of equipment from Phoenix to the Surry plant in Virginia. After the NRC shared its observations, SAFER gave our staff additional details on how it would obtain helicopters to bring supplies to a plant if area roads are impassable.

 We also reviewed a report on the Memphis center’s test of packing the equipment to efficiently load and fit onto FedEx’s planes. Although the test generated a delivery schedule a few minutes longer than the industry expected, the NRC is satisfied that SAFER has applied lessons learned to streamline its approach and ensure SAFER can meet its own deadlines.

 Our website’s Japan Lessons Learned section can give you more information about the mitigation strategy requirements and related guidance.

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