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Monthly Archives: January 2012

NRC Quickly Applies New Information to Technical Reviews

When the NRC says we consider new and significant information, we mean it. The latest example came as we were finalizing our review of a design for a new nuclear plant called the Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor (ESBWR).

General Electric-Hitachi asked the NRC to review this new design in August of 2005. We did and issued a final safety evaluation report for the design in March 2011.

Our next step in the process would normally involve giving our Commissioners a draft final rule that would approve (or certify) the ESBWR. But that is not going to happen right now because new information has come to our attention that needs to be closely reviewed.

The new information came to light because of a request by an existing nuclear power plant, Grand Gulf. In September 2010, that plant asked the NRC for permission to, among other things, replace its steam dryer with a version designed using the same methods proposed for the ESBWR. (A steam dryer prevents excess moisture from damaging the plant’s turbine.) As we reviewed Grand Gulf’s request, we asked for more information. After we reviewed that additional information, we realized there were errors in the information we were initially given to determine how the ESBWR steam dryer would react when that design is operating.

Addressing these errors could mean the NRC will have to revise or supplement the safety evaluation report or the applicant might have to revise its design control document. Either of those options would delay a final decision on certifying the design. The agency will discuss this issue with General Electric-Hitachi on Jan. 31 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

Meanwhile, Detroit Edison has asked the NRC for a Combined License to build and operate an ESBWR next to the current Fermi nuclear power plant near Detroit. The agency must come to a final decision on design certification before we can complete our work on that license request.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Three Minutes: New NRC Q&A Series Kicks Off

Three minutes isn’t a lot of time – but it’s enough to learn a bit about a wide variety of NRC topics via our new YouTube series, launched today. These new question-and-answer videos will offer information about issues of high public interest, general areas of NRC activities and some plain old science education.

The inaugural video of the series, “Three Minutes with ACRS,” is a conversation with the ACRS Executive Director Ed Hackett. He answers a brief series of questions including “What is the ACRS?” Look for new segments each month on the NRC YouTube Channel.

The NRC’s YouTube channel launched in September. Since then we’re been posting a variety of different types of videos in an effort to communicate with you, the public, in new and meaningful ways. In addition to this new series, look for a future series called “Moments in NRC History,” featuring the NRC’s historian.

If you have topics you’d like to see addressed in our “Three Minutes” series, please let us know in the comment section below. And we hope you’ll take three minutes and watch our new video.

Ivonne Couret
Public Affairs Officer

A Letter from Afghanistan Part II

Bob Carlson

Robert Carlson, a branch chief in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, is a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army Reserves. In May, he was called to active duty to serve as the chief of staff for the U.S. Agency for International Development delegation in Kabul. Below is part of a recent letter he sent to work colleagues updating them about his experiences. His first letter can be found here .

 

Dear Friends –

Happy New Year! I hope this note finds you all doing well. As promised, I am sending you an update of my deployment to Afghanistan.

I’ve now been in Afghanistan approximately seven months of my year-long tour. Much has transpired since my last update back in August 2011. As you might expect, I have seen and experienced a lot during this timeframe that has left an indelible imprint on me regarding Afghanistan, war, working in an interagency and international organizational environment, and the physical/mental effects of wartime stress.

Hopefully by the end of this deployment my experiences and lessons learned here will serve me well when I return to assume future leadership positions within the military and NRC.

Since I last wrote, there have been many high-profile attacks and suicide bombings in Afghanistan. Before the Country Team staff meeting at the Embassy each Sunday morning the Ambassador conducts a roll call and a moment of silence for all the U.S. soldiers killed in action that week – often numbering in the dozens. This is a very sobering way to begin a staff meeting and helps to put things in perspective when we carry out our routine daily affairs.

The single largest attack involving U.S. forces was the downing of a Chinook helicopter this summer killing 30 Special Operations Forces members and eight Afghan soldiers during a planned night raid. Afterwards there was an emotionally charged ramp ceremony involving a very solemn memorial service for the fallen soldiers before they were boarded on a plane headed to the U.S. for final burial – extremely heart wrenching.

A few weeks after this event the Embassy where I’m located was assaulted for 20 continuous hours by insurgents who had overtaken an abandoned building near our compound and began firing down on us. My building took much small-arms fire and a direct RPG hit less than 40-meters from my office – definitely causing me to hit the deck and low-crawl to safety! Fortunately, our office walls and ceilings are reinforced with sandbags that help to mitigate the effects of shrapnel. No U.S. casualties from this attack – but there were a lot of frayed nerves (unfortunately approximately 20 Afghan civilians were killed in this attack).

There were several high-profile government assassinations involving the former Vice-President of Afghanistan, the Governor of Kandahar Province and President Karzai’s half-brother, and numerous other mayors and local officials. In many instances the assassination involved a suicide bomber wearing either an explosive laden vest or device hidden beneath a turban. In one sensational attack, the suicide bomber used a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) directly outside one of our combat outposts, completely obliterating many of the life-support structures within. The exterior blast walls of the compound withstood much of the explosion and deflected most of the shrapnel. However, the resultant concussion from the blast wave leveled many of the temporary structures within the compound.

Miraculously, although there were more than 70 casualties, only a few resulted in death. We visited the site shortly afterwards to survey the damage and visit with the soldiers. You can only marvel at and admire the courage, determination, and sense of duty these soldiers exhibited under these trying circumstances – unbelievable!

I continue to conduct missions with the Ambassador throughout the country. These missions are usually to visit our folks in the field, view infrastructure projects, meet with Afghan government officials, and attend ceremonial events. Our primary mode of transportation is fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft because of the long distances involved, hostile terrain, and the threat of IEDs. We also have a large entourage footprint when traveling due to the staff and security requirements of my boss, which often attracts unwanted attention – thus better to fly than drive.

As you can imagine, the grind of long hours and endless work weeks, being without family, and living in poor environmental and stressful wartime conditions can take its mental and physical toll on you after awhile. That said I see a light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to being home soon.

Bob Carlson

A Day in the Life of a Resident Inspector

Amar Patel

It is said that the resident inspector job is the greatest job in the NRC. You are the front-line eyes and ears of the agency, you can clearly see the impact you provide with regard to nuclear safety, and your boss is far away on the phone! For the last 3 ½ years, I have had the chance to prove that adage true.

The job of a resident inspector at the Hope Creek Nuclear Plant, located in southern New Jersey next to the Salem Nuclear Station, is unique for several reasons. The site is close to a metropolitan area (Wilmington, DE), but the winding rural roads leading to the site make for a considerable drive to work. Once I reach the parking lot, it still remains quite a trek to my desk. That’s because the site is sprawling, and the pre- and post-9/11 security measures necessitate a long walk through checkpoints with armed security guards.

The inherent nature of the resident inspector’s job makes for an early start. I need to provide plant status and safety information to NRC Region I management on a call that starts at 7:30 a.m. To get that information, I either visit the control room or attend a “Plan of the Day” meeting. In the control room, I speak with the licensed operators, examine their logs, and review the control room panels.

After communicating with the regional office, the senior resident inspector and I discuss possible inspection activities for the day. The Reactor Oversight Process prescribes the inspections we must perform and the frequency they must be performed. However, the company’s work schedule dictates what inspection opportunities may present themselves on any given day; emergent equipment problems also adjust our priorities. The inspections selected are done considering the risk significance of the activity; if two similar activities are ongoing, I choose the activity with greater safety significance. The results of our inspection work are discussed with company management on a periodic basis — or immediately if a safety issue arises — and are documented in a publicly available inspection report on a quarterly basis.

The greatest thing about the Hope Creek Resident Inspector Office is that it is co-located with the Salem Resident Inspector Office. Thus I have four other co-workers to speak with and bounce questions off of versus the usual two. I work with three inspectors and an ever-pleasant office assistant. We work well together as a team and have a high degree of camaraderie. We also have visiting specialist inspectors almost every week, which keeps us current on issues in the office and the industry.

My favorite element of inspection work involves plant “walkdowns.” They allow me to see the most about the plant’s design, construction, and operation, and generate many ideas for follow-up inspection activities. They also allow me to observe workers actually performing their jobs. On rare occasions, these workers will have concerns with certain work activities and will bring them to my attention. They are handled by the NRC allegations process. My interaction with the worker is critical in making them feel comfortable in raising a concern, and reassuring them that the NRC will be responsive to their concern.

Overall, the job of an NRC resident inspector is great. While I joined the NRC out of college as an engineer and received extensive training my first two years on the job, I continue to have opportunities to get top-notch training to help me do my job better or prepare me for another position in the NRC. (The NRC’s current Executive Director for Operations began his career as a resident inspector at this site.) I also have the opportunity to inspect other sites periodically, and I have a high degree of job satisfaction.

And I know that every day I am working to keep the community around the plant safe.

Amar Patel
Resident Inspector, Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant

NRC’s Regulatory Information Conference Registration Now Open

The NRC is holding its 24th annual Regulatory Information Conference on March 13th through 15th, 2012, at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Maryland. This is a unique forum for government, industry, international agencies, and other stakeholders who want to meet and discuss nuclear safety topics and significant regulatory activities.

The opening session features NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko delivering the keynote remarks and a presentation by NRC’s Executive Director for Operations Bill Borchardt. Included throughout the conference are plenary sessions with Commissioners Kristine L. Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William D. Magwood, and William C. Ostendorff.

A special plenary session with Martin Virgilio, the Deputy Executive Director for Reactor and Preparedness Programs, and industry will be moderated by Eric Leeds, Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.

There will also be several sessions addressing topics associated with the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident and NRC’s response to lessons learned as well as tours of the Headquarter’s Operation Center.

The conference is free and open to stakeholders, industry representatives and members of the public, but registration is required. Online registration is now open. Registration will be available on-site, however, we strongly encourage online registration prior to the February 28 closing date.

Program information, as well as information about webcasting, is available on the RIC website.

Lorna P. Kipfer
RIC 2012 Conference Program Specialist
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