U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Monthly Archives: November 2011

NRC and the nuclear industry to continue dialogue on Japan Task Force recommendations

The NRC has spent several weeks laying the groundwork for carrying out several recommendations of the agency’s Japan Near-Term Task Force, which looked at issues raised by the Fukushima nuclear accident in March. We’ve reached the point where we’re ready to start discussions with industry representatives and the public on how to best implement each of the recommendations.

The staff will hold its first implementation meeting this Thursday, Dec. 1, to discuss the recommendations that were subsequently categorized as “Tier 1,” or those to be implemented without unnecessary delay. The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in Room T2B3 of the Two White Flint North building at 11545 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. Visitors must use the NRC’s main entrance in the One White Flint North Building at 11555 Rockville Pike.

The staff and industry representatives will discuss the general approach to implementing the “Tier 1” recommendations. The public will have the opportunity to ask the NRC staff questions about the process during the meeting, which will be webcast. You can also participate by phone — call 888-469-1349 and use passcode 2977606.

The NRC will hold more meetings to lay out initial schedules and milestones for specific recommendations. The first few of these meetings have tentatively been scheduled at NRC Headquarters for Dec. 15; Jan. 5 and 19, 2012; and Feb. 2, 2012. Notices for these meetings will be posted on the NRC’s public meeting schedule.

The task force issued its report and recommendations on July 12. The Commission directed the staff to identify which recommendations could be implemented without unnecessary delay, and the staff responded with a proposal Sept. 9. The Commission provided direction to the staff on Oct. 18 on how to carry out the proposal.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Happy Thanksgiving Wishes

This is always a meaningful time, at the very beginning of the traditional holiday season, to sit down to a special meal with friends and family — and to remember the early years of this country and all our nation has successfully accomplished over the years. We have much to be grateful for, even amidst the challenges we face today.

I am personally thankful for the talented workforce we have here at the NRC. They work hard every day to make sure this nation uses nuclear materials in a way that keeps us and our environment safe. I am especially grateful for their vigilance and dedication after the events earlier this year. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan brought out the best in them. They demonstrated a willingness to go above and beyond. Fukushima helped remind the people at the NRC why they do what they do.

I am pleased to extend to you, on behalf of myself and the whole NRC family, wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving and an enjoyable holiday season.

Gregory Jaczko
Chairman, NRC

Enhancing Emergency Preparedness Requirements

A significant change to emergency preparedness requirements at our nation’s nuclear power plants has just been completed – after many years and much public dialogue.

A large part of the final rule enhances a nuclear power plant’s response to possible hostile action events by making drill and exercise programs more challenging, changing the criteria for declaring emergencies and taking additional steps to protect workers, among other new requirements.

Additional changes include updating certain requirements, such as those related to public notification systems and evacuation planning.

The lengthy rulemaking process was closely coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and included input gathered from licensees, state, local, and tribal governments, and the public.

In conjunction with our new regulations, FEMA has also revised its Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program Manual. The manual guides how offsite response organizations respond to radiological emergencies.

The final rule and related guidance can be found in the Federal Register notice scheduled to run tomorrow. To access these documents online, visit http://www.federalregister.gov//

But the publication of the rule is not the end. Beginning next week, the NRC and FEMA are planning to hold a series of public meetings throughout the winter to share information and answer questions about the rule and related guidance documents.

These meetings will offer opportunities for licensees and response organizations, such as local police and fire departments, to talk to NRC and FEMA staff. Members of the public can observe these meetings and will have a chance to ask questions. There will be one meeting in each of the four NRC regions and near NRC headquarters, in Rockville, Md.

Public meeting notices with more details about these meetings can be found on the NRC website. Meeting participants are encouraged to review the documents prior to the meetings. They all can be found in ADAMS under the following accession numbers:

• NRC Headquarters Public Meeting Notice (November 29 – December 1, 2011): ML113190452

• NRC Region I Public Meeting Notice (December 13 – 15, 2011): ML113190520

• NRC Region II Public Meeting Notice (January 31 – February 2, 2012): ML113190540

• NRC Region III Public Meeting Notice (January 10 –12, 2012): ML113190457

• NRC Region IV Public Meeting Notice (February 14 –16, 2012): ML113190565

• Quick Reference for Document Links: ML113080528

Sara Mroz
Emergency Preparedness Specialist

Free Doughnuts — NOT

If we could send doughnuts electronically, we would, but we haven’t figured out how to do that to entice you to help us shape our agency to be more open. We need to hear from you on the following:

• How well are we doing on transparency, participation and collaboration? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges?

• How can we help more people to participate in our regulatory process?

• What new initiatives should we pursue in our Open Government Plan over the next two years?

• Has our work to date been useful to you? Take a look at our Open Government Accomplishments in 2010 – 2011, the High-Value Datasets we’ve published, and the goals in our Flagship Initiative and let us know if you think we’ve been working on the right things.

• How can we better serve the public?

The NRC’s Open Government Advisory Council is reaching out by hosting an event—

What: A public webinar

When: December 6, 10:00 am to 12 noon (Eastern time)

How: See the meeting notice

Can’t make December 6? Send us your thoughts at open@nrc.gov.

Your voice is important for our next update of our Open Government Plan.

Francine F. Goldberg
CoChair, NRC Open Government Advisory Council

The Reactor Safety Study: The Birth, Death and Rebirth of PRA

Saul Levine, above, and Norman Rasmussen directed the project.

It almost died at birth. The granddaddy of all probabilistic risk assessments (PRA), the 1975 Reactor Safety Study (WASH-1400), was greeted with such withering criticism that the Commission disavowed the report’s executive summary — a public humiliation that seemed to consign its work to irrelevancy. However, this accident study was rescued by a major reactor accident.

WASH-1400’s origins and troubles were rooted in the Atomic Energy Commission’s role as a promoter of nuclear power. AEC officials wanted to convince the public that reactor accidents were very unlikely, but until the late 1960s, engineers lacked useable data and accepted risk-assessment methodologies to prove it.

By 1971, NASA and aircraft manufacturers had developed “fault-tree analysis” tools that could be applied to reactor systems to calculate the probability of complex chains of equipment malfunctions. Fault trees were adept at uncovering unexpected system vulnerabilities, but the numerical odds that they produced of core meltdowns were realistic only with sufficient data and imaginative engineers who could identify the many important malfunction sequences that could lead to a meltdown. And that was a tall order for an accident that had never happened before.

Nevertheless, some AEC officials wanted to use fault trees to prove reactor safety by comparing meltdown frequency and consequences to other human-made and natural catastrophes.

MIT professor Norman Rasmussen and AEC staffer Saul Levine directed the $3 million, three-year project. They improved fault-tree methodology far beyond previous efforts, but limited data made its calculations uncertain. Nevertheless the WASH-1400 team presented the very low accident probabilities in the executive summary with an assurance that belied its underlying uncertainty.

Critics attacked the study’s calculations with such vigor that in 1977 the NRC created an outside review committee under Professor Harold Lewis, a physicist at University of California Santa Barbara. The Lewis report praised WASH-1400’s methodology but excoriated some of its “indefensible” calculations, “incoherent” language, and an executive summary whose “soothing tones” ignored the uncertainty in its probability estimates. The Commission accepted the findings and cautioned the NRC staff to apply PRA techniques with caution. Tom Murley, later the director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, recalled the decision “had a chilling effect on the staff.”

PRA was dead. For two months. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident destroyed a reactor, but it saved a report. WASH-1400 had foreseen small loss-of-coolant accidents and operator error as significant contributors to a meltdown risk, as had occurred at TMI. Post-accident blue-ribbon commissions called for greater use of risk assessment, and PRA slowly returned to the regulatory conversation.

By 1982, NRC Chairman Nunzio Palladino observed that PRA was important to licensing reviews, regulatory requirements, new reactor designs, and establishing priorities for research and inspections. Freed from the promotional pressure of proving reactors the safest of all technologies, PRA could simply focus on making reactors safer – something it is still doing today.

Tom Wellock
NRC Historian
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