U.S. NRC Blog

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The NRC: We’re Ready to Respond

Ops Center ExteriorIn the wake of recent events in Japan, we received a lot of questions about how we plan for and would respond to emergencies involving licensed materials and facilities in the U.S. People wanted to know:

What happens if there’s an emergency? What would the NRC do? What should I do?

Every day at the NRC, there are teams of people working to address these very questions. Our emergency preparedness and incident response programs ensure that the NRC and licensees are prepared to respond in the unlikely event of an emergency involving NRC-licensed facilities or materials.

We maintain equipment, policies, and procedures for response activities and we regularly test, evaluate, and update them. We have trained personnel who continuously monitor licensee activities to make sure they are in compliance with regulations. We also have specially trained NRC responders who are on-call at all times to be able to respond quickly should an incident occur.

We require licensees to have plans in place to respond to incidents, protect against radiological releases, and reduce the impact of incidents. Licensees are required to review these plans on a regular basis. Plans are also tested through regularly scheduled comprehensive exercises.

In the event of an emergency at a licensed facility, the NRC would independently assess the licensee’s response. If necessary, the NRC has the authority to, and would, order actions to mitigate the potential release of radiation. The NRC’s role with licensees is very clear and the incident response program ensures rapid actions by licensees and the NRC in order for the agency to make needed assessments.

Under the National Response Framework, the NRC coordinates the federal technical response to an incident that involves one of our licensees. We work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate response efforts and to understand when the response would shift from being coordinated by the NRC to being coordinated by DHS. We have worked out the details of this in several tabletop exercises.

We also work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local governments to support their needs in planning and preparing to respond to incidents.

In response to questions about NRC’s incident response program, we updated the Incident Response Backgrounder. In it you’ll find more information about how the NRC responds to emergencies involving licensed materials and facilities.

I will be using this blog to address your questions and concerns about emergency preparedness and incident response, so please let me know what you’d like to hear about.

Sara Mroz
Emergency Preparedness Specialist

20 responses to “The NRC: We’re Ready to Respond

  1. Thomas Popik May 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Walkaway Safe Spent Fuel Pools Hello, my name is Thomas Popik and I am the author of Petition for Rulemaking PRM-50-96. First, I would like to thank those that have supported our petition here on the NRC emergency preparedness and response blog. It is good of the NRC to provide this forum. Our petition, submitted by the Foundation for Resilient Societies, would require nuclear power plants to install backup systems for long-term cooling and unattended water makeup of spent fuel pools. Or to use another term that is now popular in the nuclear industry, PRM-50-96 would make spent fuel pools “walkaway safe.” The Foundation for Resilient Societies advocates cost-effective measures to protect technologically-advanced societies from natural disasters. It may interest readers to know that we are not an anti-nuclear group. Nuclear power plants provide 20% of baseload power in the United States. As a society we need to make reasonable and commonsense safety enhancements to existing nuclear plants. PRM-50-96 was written before the Japan earthquake and submitted to the NRC before the explosion at Fukushima Spent Fuel Pool No. 4. (Note: the PDF of the petition released by the NRC did not preserve the HTML links. You can access a version with HTML links at http://www.resilientsocieties.org.)

  2. Amy Still May 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Comments from the NRC Station Blackout Meeting, April 28th, 2011:

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/tr/2011/20110428a.pdf

    CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Those alternate ACs are not seismical qualified. MR. WILSON: That’s correct, they’re not. MR. HILAND: Right, that’s correct. CHAIRMAN JACZKO: So they’re not intended to necessarily survive — MR. HILAND: That’s correct. CHAIRMAN JACZKO: — some of those type of events. MR. HILAND: Right.

    CHAIRMAN JACZKO:…but in the event that there is a station blackout, that’s externally driven, I’m not convinced that, in that situation, four hours is a reasonable time to restore off-site power.

    MR. WILSON: We do have, we do have some data that we’ve done and that data will be passed on to the, to the look team. And I was not aware of a generic letter. We were looking at a lot of data that we had received, both from FERC and NERC, and some of the NUREG studies, and looking to see whether or not we had to go after rulemaking and — CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Okay. MR. WILSON: — enhance the station blackout rule itself. CHAIRMAN JACZKO: So that is, that is effectively ongoing at this point, although not at a, maybe not gotten to a — MR. WILSON: Yes, we’re still, we’re still accumulating data.

    CHAIRMAN JACZKO:…And I think, hinting from Commissioner Apostolakis, we don’t necessarily look beyond 24 hours for this kind of situation, into the longer, longer time frame.

    MR. HARRISON:…What that will mean is if you’re into an extended outage after an earthquake or whatever, you’re going to have to provide fuel to the diesels, and in that situation it’s determined that, within a day, you can get those supplies there. Or, within eight hours, you’ll be able to get that fuel supply to the plant and be able to provide it. So, that’s an inherent assumption, I would say, that’s underneath the PRA: that those capabilities will be there.
    CHAIRMAN JACZKO: As we go forward, I mean, and again, as we get more information and the task force is looking at this kind of things, I mean, that obviously would probably be relevant data inputs to see if some of those assumptions are no longer unnecessarily valid as we go forward.

    • Thomas Levi May 17, 2011 at 2:49 am

      Moderator,
      Does the NRC consider solar flare damage to the electric grid to be a natural phenomenon that they should be concerned with? I would like a straight yes or no answer to this question, not a link to some report, but feel free to add one if you have it in addition to your yes or no answer. And I also see that post are only available to for comment for 30 days. Will another post be made that addresses the issue of long term gird damage (months or years) or will we have to highjack another topic to get answers on this?
      Thanks for the responses you have provided so far.

      • Moderator May 17, 2011 at 11:09 am

        We’ll continue to keep the public informed about the status of the petition, which deals specifically with the topic of solar flares and the electrical grid. In the meantime, everyone is free to post comments on any topic through the Open Forum section of the blog.

  3. Moderator May 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    When the NRC decides that public comment would help determine a path forward for a petition for rulemaking, we invite public comment and publish a notice in the Federal Register for a 75-day public comment period. The NRC staff will evaluate the petition for rulemaking and any comments we receive, and will either consider the petition for rulemaking in the NRC’s rulemaking process or deny the petition for rulemaking. If a petition for rulemaking is denied, the NRC publishes a notice of denial in the Federal Register. This notice of denial will address any public comments received and the NRC’s reason for denying the petition for rulemaking.

    In the instances that the NRC addresses the petition for rulemaking through the rulemaking process, the NRC will publish a document in the proposed rule section of the Federal Register explaining NRC’s intent. This Federal Register document will also provide instructions so the public can stay informed regarding future NRC action that addresses the issues raised in the petition for rulemaking. A docket number identifying the project is also published in the Federal Register at that time.

    More information on our petition for rulemaking process can be found here: http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/rulemaking/petition-rule.html

  4. ugh May 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I know nothing about nuclear power but after reading this it’s apparent that a protracted outage of the grid means doom for existing nuclear plants.

    Tell me, why didn’t any of this happen with the major blackout in 2003? was there enough diesel fuel to keep the generators running? How close did any one nuclear plant come to having the generators go down?

    • Moderator May 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      On August 14, 2003, a widespread loss of the electrical power grid in the Northeast part of the U.S. resulted in loss of offsite power at nine nuclear power plants. As a result, the NRC initiated a comprehensive program to review grid stability and offsite power issues as they relate to nuclear power plants. The resulting report is available here:
      http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0602/ML060200510.pdf .

    • Thomas Levi May 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      Ugh,
      I haven’t had time to read the report that the moderator provided, but I did notice that it was published in 2005. On July 24, 2006 in a speech by Jeffery Merrifield, Commissioner of the NRC, at the American Nuclear Society Executive Conference on Grid Reliability, Stability and Off-Site Power, Mr. Merrifield, then head of the NRC said,

      “A big part of our risk-informed regulatory strategy depends on plants having access to reliable offsite power. We assume that there will be very few times when a plant will be subjected to a total loss of offsite power, and when such condition exists it will be for a relatively short period of time (hours or days rather than weeks). Our strategy of allowing more on-line maintenance to be performed on certain important safety equipment such as the emergency diesel generators makes sense as long as the risk of a plant trip remains very low during the period of time that equipment is out of service. This philosophy relies on the fact that a total loss of offsite power is a rare occurrence that will be corrected in a short period of time.”

      As you can see this quote was made after the report the moderator sites was released showing that the NRC still believed that the loss of off-site power for an extended period was something that the NRC did not believe could happen. One of the key lines from this quote was, “This philosophy relies on the fact that a total loss of offsite power is a rare occurrence that will be corrected in a short period of time.” think about this , it was the head of the NRC saying this.

      There are several ways that power can be cut for months or years. I will go into them if you wish? Just look up solar flare, emp attack or cyber attack on the internet. I have been told that the plant owners don’t have to prepare for attack by a foreign power, but solar flare is a natural occurrence and thus should be prepared for, thankfully the remedy for solar flare will protect against the other two as well.

      Now, in the event of a power outage lasting more than a month, possibly years, there will be massive causalities, this is unavoidable should this situation come to pass. But just like with any other natural disaster the people will eventually come back and they may be a little smarter than before. However, if the NRC grossly ignores its duty, as it has been doing in this case for years, and does nothing to harden plants against long term grid disruption the US will be destroyed FOREVER, any people who survive will not be able to live on the land or drink the water!

      In the 2003 black out 9 plants were affected, in a solar flare event almost all of them will be affected. And it will be much worse than Japan because power will not be restored and the spent fuel pools of these plants will burn. Instead of providing you with a 88 page document to read like the moderator, I’ll just tell you what happened in the 2003 black out. All emergency systems worked as designed and it appears that no plants were close to a meltdown. However, the black out only lasted 2 days, most plants can stand a 7 day blackout and if emergency generators are working they can last as long as fuel is constantly resupplied. The danger with a large scale disruption is that it will be chaos and refineries will be off line as well, so when the 7 days of fuel are gone you had better be running away from all nuclear power plants as long as this issue is not addressed.

      I am heartened to see that the NRC has posted the petition PRM-50-96 for public comment. Go to the link that the moderator has so helpfully provided and post a positive comment on this petition if this situation concerns you, also get as many people as you can to comment

  5. jim hardy April 29, 2011 at 2:15 am

    i’m a retired plant maintenance guy.

    would you fellows consider posting photographs of the containments at Fukushima reactors 1-3 operating floors, just beneath the roof rubble?

    are the top closures still in place and secure?

    Was this really just H2 ?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnPFJyJDC….

    You have the best people on the planet – sure would appreciate a status page for Fukushima from your perspective.

    thanks

    old jim

    • Moderator April 29, 2011 at 10:01 am

      The NRC does not have photos of the inside of the plant nor have we been providing public assessments or comments on the actions of the Japanese officials. We continue to have NRC experts in Japan providing assistance directly to the Japanese authorities, however, and we continue to post information on NRC actions on this page: http://www.nrc.gov/japan/japan-info.html

      • jim hardy April 30, 2011 at 9:12 am

        Fair enough.
        If I were in Tepco’s shoes i wouldn’t want somebody doing that either. i shoulda thought of that.
        thanks for the reply, and i’m glad you’re lending a hand over there.
        old jim

    • Piyush September 8, 2013 at 12:21 am

      Hello Jim hardy,
      Thank you for your question I was in the trouble with the same question and thanks you moderator for clearing my Idea.
      Regards
      Piyush

  6. Trent Sikes April 26, 2011 at 1:10 am

    It is my understanding that the NRC has no plans for a station blackout event (SBO)lasting over 7 days with no resupply of fuel to the affected plants emergency generators. There are several events that can knock out power to large portions of the US commercial power grid for months or years. These include, but are not limited to, solar flare, EMP attack, and cyber-attack. While I realized that nuclear utilities are not required to defend against foreign attack, they are required to prepare for foreseeable natural events. Solar flare defiantly fits into this last category. A large solar flare can knock out power to the majority of the US power grid for years.

    As you, at the NRC well know ,the disaster in Japan was not caused by an earthquake or tsunami, it was caused by a loss of power to the cooling systems of the plant to the reactor core and spent fuel pools. The earthquake was merely the catalyst that started the SBO event. When anyone reading this looks at the pictures of those destroyed reactor buildings in aerial photographs, realize this is what a nuclear plant looks like when it losses power for a couple of days, and this can and most likely will happen in the US.
    In the event of long term grid failure a reasonable person would conclude that power to oil refineries will be cut making resupply of diesel to emergency generators impossible for months. As you ( the NRC) well know this will cause the cooling systems to cease to function and the reactor to overheat, even if shutdown, and the spent fuel pools will boil off their coolant resulting in a zirconium fire at all affected plants, spewing radiological contamination for hundreds or thousands of miles around each plant. This will happen at all plants where there is no power. In this situation the US will be dealing with multiple station blackout events and meltdowns at the same time it is dealing with all the things that will be happening if the power is out for an extended period. The US does not have the resources to deal with this scenario, prevention is the only option.

    In light of this, it is gross negligence on the part of the NRC not of force the nuclear industry to have plans and technologies in place that will make it possible for nuclear plants to survive a station black out event lasting years with no resupply of fuel, or operators on site. Especially, since we know that spent fuel fires at just a few plants will render most of the eastern United States uninhabitable for centuries. What if anything is the NRC doing to address this problem? We are all in grave danger until the NRC does its duty and fixes this glaring weakness in nuclear safety. This is not some farfetched doomsday fantasy, several times in the last few decades weak solar flares have knocked out satellites and power transformers .And in 1859 and 1921 solar storms powerful enough to destroy the US power grid hit the earth, but electric power was in its infancy then, the clock is ticking for us, fix this now.

    • Moderator April 29, 2011 at 10:08 am

      A Commission meeting held Thursday, April 28th, was webcast and is archived here: http://video.nrc.gov/ . The meeting included a briefing on the status of the NRC’s response to events in Japan and, related to your comment above, a briefing on station blackout. A copy of Chairman Jaczko’s remarks at the beginning of the meeting can also be found here: http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1111/ML111180271.pdf . The first briefing by the task force reviewing NRC regulations in light of the Japanese nuclear emergency is scheduled for May 9th. It will also be webcast. For more information on that meeting, go here: http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/public-meetings/schedule.html .

      • Amy Still May 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

        The recent events in Japan has made everyone aware of the issues with extended power outages at Nuclear Power plants except the NRC? If the NRC currently has no plans in place for extended outages at US Nuclear power plants it needs to get one fast. With Solar Maximus (extreme solar flares/space weather on the 11 yr solar cycle) set for 2012/2013 as identified by NASA, this is serious issue affecting not only people, but every species of wildlife in North America. I feel this would be a timely and appropriate issue for the NRC to address. We need solar and wind back-ups at every plant this year and all equipment needs to be protected in EMP Faraday cages.

      • Thomas Levi May 11, 2011 at 2:08 am

        Great post Amy and the rest of you guys. I also find it incredible that the NRC is so short sighted that they cannot see that there is a danger that one of these plants will be cut from the electric grid and it may not be possible to get fuel resupplied to the generators. Then it’s bye, bye good ole USA. It’s crazy that regular people know about this while the “experts” at the NRC sit around and twiddle their thumbs.

        I’ve read the full text of petition PRM-50-96 that the Lisa advocates above and I also demand that it be posted for comment and implemented immediately. What’s wrong with the NRC that we even have to bring this up. This should never have been an issue to begin with. If you can’t totally shut these monsters down they never should have been built, period.

        But to cut the NRC some slack I see that on 5-9-2011 they are requesting a cyber security plan implementation schedule from all their plants. This is a step in the right direction the SUX-Net cyber attack on Iran shows that nuclear plants are highly vulnerable to this type of attack. All critical systems should not be connected to the internet at all, however, the architects of sux-net got around this as well.

        But again this is still a little short sighted, one of the most vulnerable targets to cyber attack is the power grid itself and the NRC has no control over the various entities that control the commercial grid. In light of this the NRC must prepare for the definite possibility that the power grid will suffer cyber attack and be down for months. And again PRM-50-96 addresses this issue when it outlines strategies for solar flare damage to the power grid. Get on this now NRC! We are not as stupid as you think we are, Japan has nothing to do with an earthquake the plant survived that just fine, the thing only self destructed when it lost power for a few hours.

    • Lisa Ansell April 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      I would like to second what the gentleman above me stated, how can you not have a plan for a black out lasting a long time. After reading this post I started looking around and found that you have a petition before you now I believe it is PRM-50-96 that gives solutions to this problem. I’d like to know why the NRC hasn’t done more to protect us from this. Reliable power is not a given, anything can happen. You say you have a defense in depth strategy, but it looks like you just have a defense plan that just relies on conventional ways of keeping the US from being destroyed by just one of your plants melting down. The situation the guy describes above would cause several meltdowns and spent fuel fires all at the same time. When I started looking I was shocked to learn that it looks like he is correct.

      I read that one of your plants was hit by a tornado yesterday and was cut from outside power and had to go to emergency generators, and one of the generators was down. It looks like everything worked ok yesterday; thank God, but what happens if those generators were to run out of fuel? In a long blackout like the ones caused by solar flare or hacker attack the refineries will not work. BP just had a loss of power at their Texas city refinery a couple of days ago, and had to start flaring gas. All of this stuff is tied in together if the electric grid fails then so does oil refining, and what does your generators run off of? Battery backup is not good enough, I read your chairman is advocating longer batteries. This is still not good enough you must be prepared for an indefinite power outage.

      You need a multi-layered defense that does not depend on the electric grid or petroleum industry. I read that this goes in the public record. I sure hope it does to show people are warning you about this terrible vulnerability that ALL of your plants have. That way if something does happen the people in charge can be held accountable for not taking widely available warnings seriously. Please move as soon as possible to put the petition prm50-96 in affect I haven’t had time to read it all but what I have read makes a lot of sense and if the worse happens your plants will destroy this country.

    • lee Mcleod April 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      would also like to know how the NRC ever approved any plants when there was no plan for a long power disruption or being able to shut down plants if operators were prevented from getting to work. There are just too many things that can happen. And if power is disrupted to a nuclear plant our whole country will be ruined because the NRC failed to prepare for something that any rational person would believe was a definite possibility. If someone has made a petition that will fix this mess then I would like it put into effect as well. There are just too many things that can happen that will prevent the power from getting too these plants or workers from reporting. How anyone could even license one plant when they can never be shut down or cut from outside power is beyond me.

      • Moderator May 11, 2011 at 8:58 am

        The Petition for Rulemaking PRM-50-96 was posted in the Federal Register on May 6, 2011 and public comments are being sought. The petition requests that the NRC amend its regulations regarding the domestic licensing of special nuclear material to require production and utilization facilities licensed by the NRC to assure long-term cooling and unattended water makeup of
        spent fuel pools.

        The full petition and information on how to comment is available here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-05-06/html/2011-11112.htm

      • Trent Sikes May 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm

        Moderator,
        Could you please explain the rule making process to us? If we comment on this petition what will be the determining factor on whether it is adopted or not? And if it is adopted what will happen then? If you would briefly describe this process I would appreciate it.

        Thanks

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