U.S. NRC Blog

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NRC Starting to Return to Normal Inspection Coverage After Sandy

In addition to opening the headquarters and Region I offices tomorrow, the NRC is also beginning to return to normal inspection coverage for nuclear power plant sites in the Northeastern United States. Heightened coverage will continue at Oyster Creek, a plant in Lacey Township, N.J., still in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

In addition to the event at Oyster Creek, three reactors experienced trips, or shutdowns, during the storm. They were Indian Point 3, in Buchanan, N.Y.; Salem Unit 1, in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.; and Nine Mile Point 1, in Scriba, N.Y. All safety systems responded as designed.

At Oyster Creek, the Alert – the second lowest of four levels of emergency classification used by the NRC – remains in effect as plant operators wait for the water intake levels to drop to pre-designated thresholds. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. Oyster Creek was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service. Water levels are beginning to subside to more normal levels, but the plant remains in an Alert status until there is enough confidence levels will remain at more normal levels. Offsite power at the plant is in the process of being restored.

Meanwhile, three plants – Millstone 3, in Connecticut, Vermont Yankee, in Vermont, and Limerick, in Pennsylvania, – reduced power in advance of or in response to the storm. Millstone 3’s power was reduced to about 70 percent in advance of the storm to minimize potential impacts on its circulating water system due to the storm. Vermont Yankee reduced power to 89 percent in response to a request from the grid operator due to the loss of a transmission line in New Hampshire. Limerick Unit 1’s power was reduced to about 50 percent and Limerick Unit 2’s to about 25 percent in response to low electrical demands on the grid because of storm-related power outages.

Besides potentially affected nuclear power plants, the NRC also monitored any possible impacts on nuclear materials sites it oversees but did not identify any concerns.

NRC inspectors were at all of the nuclear power plants expected to experience the greatest effects of the storm. Those inspectors were tasked with independently verifying that operators were following relevant procedures to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

We will continue to coordinate with other federal and state agencies prior to the restart of the affected plants.

Eliot Brenner
Public Affairs Director

24 responses to “NRC Starting to Return to Normal Inspection Coverage After Sandy

  1. Ellen Hassett November 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Thank you for your moderation. I, too, would like to reiterate the crucial need for timely and detailed (appropriate) information release about post-Sandy efforts. In particular, the communications around (a) tripped facilities (alarm restoration, pump/intake function restoration, heat reduction) and (b) spent fuel cooling (in its entirety) have been virtually non-existent.

  2. Christopher Whitten November 1, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    You guys better wake up! After Fukushima, Americans are intensely watching ALL things nuclear. We want an end to this deadly threat.

  3. SomeFukushimaChick November 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    There has been no public info out of the NRC about the intake water pump damage at Salem. Five pumps damaged in need of repair and the intakes blocked. The plant has been down without normal cooling for 3+ days now and the NRC says nothing about this to the public. Just that the intakes were blocked and went on aux cooling. I found out from Platts who was told by the operator. The NRC reporting during and after Sandy has honestly been absolutely horrible and pretty useless. Event reports do not include important and relevant information, social media has nothing for days and what is there isn’t useful.
    There is still no information out of the NRC or the operator if Oyster Creek lost access to the ultimate heat sink (even temporarily) . We know water was at 7.4 feet above the 7ft height of the pump via Reuters from the operator. But did they either lose the pump functionality or have to shut them off as a precaution at any time during the alert? The fact that Oyster Creek does not have an alternative method to operate the heat exchanger for the spent fuel pool if they lose access to the river water is a big deal. Putting more water in the pool is not cooling, it is make up water. There was lots of deceptive statements by various industry sources claiming this was cooling to the public and it is simply not technically true. There has also been no information about the status of the fuel at Oyster Creek. Was any of it offloaded to the pool yet or is it all still in the reactor? The lack of this information caused LOTS of panicky speculating because there was such an information vacuum. This could have easily been prevented by giving the public some honest useful information about the situation.
    The lack of transparency and public disclosure about what is going on is really disturbing

    • nuclear guy November 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Circulating water pumps are only used to cool the condenser/turbine. They are assumed to fail during accidents and the plant is designed to shut down without them.

      As for Oyster, there are Exelon quotes from PR reps in various news articles that their portable pumps never had to be used, and they never lost their service water pumps. A portable pump was available to take over for the permanantly installed service water pumps. Additionally, adding water to the pool is in fact cooling. Thermodynamics shows us that water will remain at boiling temperature until it is all boiled off, and as a result, making up the fuel pool with cold water will ensure the fuel is never overheated.

      Interesting fact about Oyster, their maximum expected hurricane storm surge is actually +22 feet. Under the storm surge, the plant design assumes their service water pumps all fail and they still achieve and maintain safe shutdown. See http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0614/ML061450592.pdf

      I agree information out to the public could have been better, but at the same time there was also a lot of bad information provided by non-industry sources, claiming that there was no backup power for the spent fuel pool which ANS did a great job of refuting: http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/10/29/spent-fuel-pool-at-oyster-creek/
      Additionally, this talk that there is no backup way to cool spent fuel pool heat exchangers is not truly correct. The spent fuel pool heat exchangers are cooled by the reactor closed cooling system, and that system is cooled by either normal service water or emergency service water (typical for most BWRs). Additionally any loss of cooling would require (per an exelon press release, but consistent with industry data), over 25 hours prior to reaching boiling point, providing adequate time for portable equipment or manual equipment lineups to occur, and in this case, providing more than enough time for the storm surge to go down and allow cooling pumps to be brought back in service.

      • LillyMunster November 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

        This is exactly the splitting hairs that is infuriating the public. Loss of the spent fuel pool heat exchanger. Did it continue to work or not. Please stop trying to BS people that dumping water into the spent fuel pool is a cooling system. It isn’t. Dumping cold water into a hot pot cools down said pot. That is not a cooling system. It also has limited effect over the long term.
        Exelon stated the extra pump was in place. They have not cited if it was ever used or not or if the intake pumps worked through the entire incident or not. Oyster creek critical systems sit at 10-17 feet above sea level. Anyone can look it up on google earth. 22 feet of water would swamp the site.
        Everyone KNOWS there are certain back up systems in a BWR. That IS NOT the question. The questions are very specific. That is the exact status of certain pieces of equipment throughout the disaster. The ANS article is seriously flawed and gives yet another false impression of the actual systems at Oyster Creek. Having 25 hours of margin isn’t the point. Then again it does make a good point. You have 1 day until the pool starts boiling if a failure can’t be addressed. Fukushima showed how fast 1 day can pass in an accident.
        Nuclear Guy’s reply is a perfect example of the distraction and spin the public gets rather than specific answers when questions arise in a nuclear plant failure. None of my questions actually answered but a whole lot of excuses and statements intended to confuse the public. This is why we need the NRC to give the public detailed and specific information in a timely manner. All we get out of the industry is hip wader worthy BS.

      • LillyMunster November 2, 2012 at 10:17 am

        The Exelon statement about not needing the portable pump to pull river water was made very early in the alert. We do not know if it was needed later or not. Nobody will give the public specific honest information.

      • nuclear guy November 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm

        Lilly,

        I agree that critical equipment is at the 10-17 feet range, typically this is where the ECCS pumps are located, however you need to remember that the ground level of the plant and surrounding the plant actually goes well above 22 feet MSL. This ground acts as a levee for the plant, and a 22 foot storm surge would be unable to pass through it and inundate the ECCS pump rooms. Additionally, the ECCS pump rooms at nuclear plants include flood proof features such as submarine doors and sump pumps designed to prevent internal or external flooding.

        With regards to spent fuel pool cooling, adding water to the pool IS a form of cooling, it is an open loop cooling system, in comparison to a closed loop cooling system, but it is still a cooling system. The acceptability of such a cooling system only depends on whether or not offsite radiological release consequences, which when you consider the plant still had electrical power and a functioning standby gas treatment system, would likely be minimal. With regards to 25 hours being a short amount of time, this plant was in a very different situation than Fukushima, with functioning AC and DC power systems, only 1 unit to deal with, and preparation for the event, 25 hours is plenty of time, and US stations have procedures in place (since at least 9/11), which already detail how you do things like set up portable pumps and spent fuel pool cooling during an emergency.

        With regards to not getting details, I agree it would be great if plants or the NRC would provide more specific details. However there are issues with regards to the regulated power grid when it comes to releasing information that can put plants at an advantage or disadvantage, along with proprietary information, along with the fact that any public notification by a utility requires a reportable event.

        Don’t worry though, if the information you are hoping to find isn’t made readily available by the NRC or the company, you can always wait 60 days for the written Licensee Event Report to be made available on the NRC website (per 10CFR50.73). These written reports are required whenever there is a reportable event notification. These reports may not be uploaded to the NRC website in exactly 60 days, but will eventually show up. They give detailed reports of events which happened. I recommend taking a look at them.

    • nuclear guy November 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      A link with Exelon PR comments http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-30/nuclear-power-industry-passes-readiness-test
      See page 2
      ““That is unequivocally false, Oyster Creek has numerous, redundant sources of reactor and spent-fuel pool cooling that would be fully operational regardless of the water levels mentioned,” Exelon’s Tillman said.”

      • LillyMunster November 2, 2012 at 9:56 am

        That is a) spin and b) vague. It says nothing and that is the problem. Exactly what redundant sources does he mean, name them. How are they powered & fed water? Did they actually have the ability to work during this incident and what systems were used during the incident. The vague industry nonsense is just insulting to the public who deserves answers. I sure hope the NRC can provide some specific details since the industry clearly won’t.

      • nuclear guy November 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        The BWR design incorporates numerous features for spent fuel pool cooling. The first is 2 spent fuel pool cooling pumps and heat exchangers, which are powered by the emergency power bus (and diesels if necessary). Oyster in particular also has an additional augmented fuel pool cooling system. I’m not very familiar with it, but it is an additional system which can cool the pool. BWRs also have the ability to cross tie the RHR system and usually the service water systems directly to the spent fuel pool for cooling. Also with Oyster in refuelling mode, various forms of reactor cooling can also supplement the spent fuel pool, as they are located next to each other, and are actually 1 body of water during refuelling mode.

      • LillyMunster November 5, 2012 at 10:39 am

        This mystery cooling system claimed to be at Oyster Creek. The plant is virtually identical to Fukushima Unit 1. Both reactors were built by GE. Fuku #1 was turnkey. The Japanese did not make design changes. Fuku #1 does not have an additional cooling system for the spent fuel pool. So this mystery system should be somewhere in the NRC documents either as an addition later on or somewhere in all those decades of plant issues, maintenance and re licensing. The burden of proof is on you, go find it.
        The ability of the diesels to power the heat exchanger at OC was not the issue or the question. The question was if they had access to river water the entire time. Loss of river water would cause a loss of the heat exchanger. The diesels were not the issue.
        If Oyster Creek has some ability to tap into the RHR to act as a stand in cooler for the spent fuel pool that would be unique to OC and should be somewhere in all those decades of NRC documentation. No such system exists on Fuku #1, if OC does possess this it would be documented, you should be able to go find it.
        As for the reactor well acting as a stand in to cool the spent fuel pool, it would depend on the fuel gate being open. The public does not know where OC was in the refueling process. We still do not know if fuel had been removed from the reactor or not. Even opening the gate would only provide a marginal cooling effect on the spent fuel pool as the gate is so small. At best it provides a way to make up water that would evaporate.
        After the nuclear industry lied to the US public about Fukushima claiming it could never melt down right up until the time unit 1 exploded, they have no credibility left. If you expect people to believe anything plan to provide verifiable proof. At least during Fukushima’s worst the NRC was busy trying to do something rather than giving the public a snow job.

      • nuclear guy November 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm

        Lily:

        “The plant is virtually identical to Fukushima Unit 1. Both reactors were built by GE.”

        Actually Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 is a BWR3, while Oyster is a BWR2, the closest US plant would be Dresden. Additionally, no two plants are alike. GE did not build either plant, they only supplied the design for the Nuclear Steam Supply System. It is up to architect engineers, hired by the utility, to design and build the plant as a whole.

        “Fuku #1 does not have an additional cooling system for the spent fuel pool.”

        There are crossties for various systems to cool the spent fuel pool. I think you don’t have enough information about this to really comment. Maybe you don’t understand that Fukushima Daiichi had no available power to power ANY cooling systems. Also their service water pumps were destroyed, really making it a moot point. There really should be no comparison to Fukushima in this case.

        ” The burden of proof is on you, go find it.”

        Actually I’ve worked at several BWRs and have access to design documents for many. I know how these plants work, you are the one concerned with them. You could find your own proof. You also could stop using excuses to say anything I post isnt relevant.

        “If Oyster Creek has some ability to tap into the RHR to act as a stand in cooler for the spent fuel pool that would be unique to OC and should be somewhere in all those decades of NRC documentation. ”

        Most BWRs i’ve worked at or been involved with have the ability to crosstie RHR into spent fuel pool cooling, known as “Fuel Pool Assist” mode. Additionally, with the reactor head off and fuel pool gate removed, you can do the opposite. You can provide cooling to JUST the spent fuel pool (using either RHR or FPC), and the cold water will naturally circulate and cool both the vessel and spent fuel pool. My plant, during outages, like many BWRs, will actually take both trains of shutdown cooling out of service for maintenance and cool the reactor AND spent fuel pool using just 1 spent fuel pool cooling pump and heat exchanger, or just 1 shutdown cooling pump.

        I think you should research BWRs more.

      • LillyMunster November 6, 2012 at 9:44 am

        This is typical nuclear industry spin tactics. Accuse the other person of being “uneducated” and that the industry person supposedly knows more. Nobody is obligated to defer to you and you are not somehow above the expectation to back up what you claim with evidence. BWR 2 and BWR 3 are both 2nd Generation BWR (even a quick wiki shows this) and the systems for Fuku 1 and Oyster Creek are virtually identical. GE designed both units. Until you provide some actual evidence to back up your claim about these supposed cross tied systems it is unsubstantiated speculation on your part. The idea that only people who have worked in the nuclear industry possess some magical knowledge and nobody else could possibly understand the technology therefore we all should just believe you sans any evidence is both silly and long outdated. It also has no place here on the NRC’s comment section and is proving no use to anyone.

        If these cross ties do exist and are as common as you claim it would be quite easy for you to cite proof of such. The NRC and DOE have extensive records of inspection, maintenance and changes to reactors in the US over the decades. The fact that you have yet to provide any verifiable proof of any of your nonsense just proves my point that you are only here to be a distraction from the questions the public have been asking the NRC.

      • Nuclear guy November 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm

        First I apologize oyster does not have RHR cross connect, the have an extra set of fuel pool cooling pumps called augmented fuel pool cooling system.

        Second, here are two sources of BWRs with RHR fuel pool assist mode.

        http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1201/ML12011A163.pdf

        Section 9.1.3.2.2

        http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0709/ML070930234.pdf

        9.1.3.2

        Every bwr is a bit different. There are a lot of things oyster has that my plant does not have, and vice versa. Btw, every operatin commercial nuclear power plant is a generation 2 plant. Generation refers to the design evolution, not all gen 2 plants are the same. Among gen 2 plants you have 6 different bwr series plants, Westinghouse 2,3,4 loop pwrs, combustion engineering PWR, b and w PWR, candu phwr, etc. all are different.

      • LillyMunster November 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm

        The terminology may have confused a few people in your last post. While all the reactors listed use water as a moderator, the typical classifications put all BWR reactors like the Mark 1-3 GE and ABWR reactors into one category, then the various types of PWR reactors in another category and Candu in another. Maybe better phrasing is sub categories within a type?

  4. Nancy November 1, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Why is/was the information from the NRC about the nuke plants that had problems during Sandy so scanty? The public needs to know much more specific and complete data and details. Even Regulators in Japan did much better than this during Fukushima.

    • Moderator November 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      The NRC issued five storm-related press releases and blog posts with up-to-date information on the status of the plants in Sandy’s path, and NRC actions. We’ll be putting up another blog post on the subject this afternoon.

      • Nancy November 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm

        Hopefully the new post will have data, and details about the water pump problems at Salem and specifics about how Oyster Creek was cooled during the alert.

  5. Keith November 1, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Ironically, your news releases were much more frequent during the peak of the storm than they are now during the aftermath. Please be aware that this issue is being followed emphatically in certain circles, and we appreciate your work and hope that you will continue to use our generous tax funding to keep us up to date on all matters concerning a potential nuclear dilemna (G-d forbid).

    I’m sure that there’s nothing to be concerned with being that the worst is over, but a little reassurance would be appreciated. The concern is certainly warranted being that Oyster Creek is the oldest nuclear facility in the country (2 years older than the Fukushima plant) and situated in the most densely populated state in the nation.

    We hope that you continue to keep us up to date during these troubling times. We will be watching.

  6. Marc Hoellerer November 1, 2012 at 9:19 am

    I hope everything will turn out fine. I’m afraid of another Fukushima…

  7. Kurt October 31, 2012 at 7:21 am

    How well do NRC inspectors observe and not intrude or skew the activity being observed?

    • Moderator October 31, 2012 at 11:45 am

      NRC inspectors learn to balance the need to carry out our mission – ensuring public health and safety – without impacting the ability of plant workers to take appropriate actions.

      Plant workers are trained to conduct activities in accordance with their procedures. NRC inspectors are trained to carry out their activities without affecting those workers carrying out procedures or responding to plant conditions. For example, should an inspector have questions or concerns during a plant event, those can be raised to a supervisor rather than an operator responding to plant conditions. This assures the inspectors observations are addressed.

  8. help ever hurt never baba October 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Public acceptance of songs will be good for nrc

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