U.S. NRC Blog

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Droning On Over Nuclear Power Plants

Monika Coflin
Technical Assistant
Division of Security Policy

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have been in the news lately. Last fall, unidentified drones breached restricted airspace over 13 of France’s 19 nuclear power plants in a seemingly coordinated fashion. In January, a drone crashed onto the lawn of the White House. And this week, a drone was found on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office.

PrintDrones may be fun toys, but they pose a number of concerns. They can be used to conduct surveillance to gather intelligence about facility security. They can also be used to deliver payloads that could include explosives. While the majority of drones currently in use are relatively small, larger ones are becoming available that could possibly deliver payloads capable of causing damage to facilities that are not hardened.

Security experts haven’t yet identified who was responsible for the French flyovers, but with the prices of drones falling and their popularity rising, the potential threat will likely continue to grow.

There are ways to detect and intercept drones, such as jamming radio signals or using helicopters to pursue encroaching drones. Chinese scientists are developing a laser weapon that can detect and shoot down small, low-flying aircraft, and interception drones have the ability to drop nets over intruding drones. However, there are many legal issues that challenge the use of these techniques.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a long-standing “Notice to Airmen” warning pilots not to linger over nuclear power plants. The FAA has also issued guidelines on where users should not fly drones, but the industry is largely unregulated as more companies look to use the relatively new technology in their businesses. The FAA has been working to craft a comprehensive regulatory framework for drones, following calls from Congress and the President, and recently issued draft regulations for the commercial use of drones.

PrintPresident Obama likened the drone industry to cyberspace, which has brought new technologies that U.S. laws are still trying to catch up to.

“These technologies that we’re developing have the capacity to empower individuals in ways that we couldn’t even imagine 10-15 years ago,” the President said, pledging to work to create a framework that “ensures that we get the good and minimize the bad.”

Given the evolving nature of technology and the need to balance the threat with the potential benefits of drones, the NRC is actively engaging with the departments of Homeland Security, Energy, and Defense to move this government collaboration effort forward. For example, we have reached out to the FAA to examine available legal and regulatory options, and attended inter-agency meetings to learn about how other agencies are addressing potential impacts from drones.

In addition, NRC will participate in a U.S.-initiated drone working group under the nuclear counterterrorism umbrella with the governments of France and the United Kingdom. The NRC has provided, and will continue to provide, pertinent information on this topic in a timely manner to its licensees to ensure continued safe and secure operations.

@NRCgov_jobs Joins Twitter

Kimberly English
Recruitment Program Manager

There is a new way to hear about careers and career-related information at the NRC. Beginning today, you’ll be able to find out about the latest vacancy announcements and employment information by just following the new Twitter feed.

tweetgraphicThe tweets will go out the same time a vacancy announcement is open to the public or when we attend career fairs or just want to share information related to careers at the NRC. Follow NRC’s careers tweets at @NRCgov_jobs. The NRC’s jobs account will be listed and then simply click the “Follow” button underneath.

We also recently launched a careers page on LinkedIn where we share information on jobs and interesting factoids as well as information on why the NRC is a great place to work and seen as an employer of choice. Log into your LinkedIn account and in the search field type U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and join the more than 10,000 people following our careers page.

We don’t just hire engineers! Take a look and who knows…Your most rewarding career move could be to the NRC!

 

Throwback Thursday – The Nuclear Savannah

14698777183_cbe50c4bb1_nNS (Nuclear Ship) Savannah, the first commercial nuclear-powered cargo vessel, is seen here heading to the World’s Fair in Seattle. Built in the late 1950s at a cost of $47 million, including a $28 million nuclear reactor and fuel core, the Savannah was a demonstration project for the potential use of nuclear energy. She was launched in July 1959 and named for the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

NS Savannah was in service between 1962 and 1972 as one of only four nuclear-powered merchant ships ever built. Anyone know where she is moored today? Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Three Minutes with an NRC Health Physicist

Sophie Holiday
Health Physicist

By now most of you have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (which also includes the arts). These terms are shorthand for the school subjects that experts believe are essential to prepare students for today’s workforce. What may not be as familiar is the range of jobs available to students in STEM fields.

3minutesAt the NRC, we are always looking for students with good STEM backgrounds. But we don’t only hire nuclear engineers. In fact, there are many health physicists as part of our workforce. This important specialty is the subject of one of our latest YouTube videos.

Health physicists are trained in protecting people, members of the public and patients from the potential hazards of using radioactive materials. Radioactive materials can be used in diagnosing and treating illnesses, conducting research, producing electricity or any number of industrial processes. Besides physics, health physicists might study biology, health, engineering, technology or environmental science.

At the NRC, health physicists fill a variety of roles. They review applications for new reactors and amendments to existing reactors. They make sure our regulations will be met by facilities involved in processing uranium into nuclear fuel. They oversee the safety of medical, academic and industrial uses of radioisotopes. They perform inspections at the facilities we license. Health physicists are essential to fulfilling the NRC’s mission of protecting people and the environment.

Check out our video to learn more about the important role health physicists play in our society.

REFRESH — What is a Reactor Trip and How Does it Protect the Plant?

Samuel Miranda
Senior Reactor Systems Engineer

Note: Last week, the Prairie Island nuclear power plant “tripped.” So, it seemed like a good time to revisit a blog post we did two years ago on the subject.

refresh leafOn occasion, a nuclear power plant will “trip,” meaning something happened that caused the reactor to automatically shut down to ensure safety. In other words, a trip means a plant is doing what it’s supposed to do. Let’s look at the term a bit more closely.

Key operating parameters of a nuclear power plant, such as coolant temperature, reactor power level, and pressure are continuously monitored, to detect conditions that could lead to exceeding the plant’s known safe operating limits, and possibly, to damaging the reactor core and releasing radiation to the environment.

If any of these limits is exceeded, then the reactor is automatically shut down, in order to prevent core damage. In nuclear engineering terms, the automatic shutdown of a nuclear reactor is called a reactor trip or scram. A reactor trip causes all the control rods to insert into the reactor core, and shut down the plant in a very short time (about three seconds).

How do control rods do their job?

pwr[1]The control rods are composed of chemical elements that absorb neutrons created by the fission process inside the reactor. They are placed methodically throughout the nuclear reactor as a means of control. For example, as the control rods are moved into the reactor, neutrons are absorbed by the control rods and the reactor power is decreased. Inserting them all at the same time shuts down the reactor. Control rods can also be inserted manually, if necessary.

The plant operator then determines the reason for the trip, remedies it and, when it’s determined to be safe, restarts the reactor. So, while not common, a reactor trip is an important way to protect the components in a nuclear power plant from failing or becoming damaged.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we re-run previous blog posts. This post originally ran in December 2012.

 

 

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