U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Public Meeting on Public Participation That Wasn’t All That Public

Darren Ash
Deputy Executive Director for Corporate Management
 brokencomputer

The irony was not lost on us when we were told the live webcast feed for today’s Commission meeting on public participation wasn’t, well, actually getting out to the public.

Obviously, we encountered technical difficulties. The contractor hired to broadcast the meeting discovered early in the meeting that the webcast video was not being distributed to internet viewers (for reasons not yet clear). Unfortunately, it was not a quick fix to get it back up and running, and only the last part of the meeting actually ended up being available via live webcast.

We apologize for this unfortunate turn of events. The archive of the meeting will be available in the archive section of the Webcast Portal later today.

 

Note: The webcast is now available.

Construction Oversight Pilot Builds on Agency’s Longstanding Reactor Oversight Process

Joey Ledford
Public Affairs Officer, Region II
 

The NRC is piloting a new oversight process for nuclear units under construction that is reminiscent of the old riddle, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”chickenegg

Obviously, the Reactor Oversight Process, or ROP, has been in effect for years. The NRC staff recently developed a Reactor Oversight Process for construction, known as cROP, designed to inform oversight of the ongoing work at Southern Nuclear Co.’s two new units at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Ga., and SCE&G’s two new units at V.C. Summer near Columbia, S.C.

The new process uses numerous features of the original ROP, including the inspection program, assessment process and enforcement policy. But the construction ROP has its own Action Matrix and employs a construction significance determination process to assess the importance of inspection findings.

Senior officials in the Office of New Reactors, or NRO, held public meetings near both sites this month to explain the program and gather public comments on possible revisions to improve it. Another public meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6 at NRC headquarters to evaluate the pilot, with the goal to report to the Commission by the end of April.

The inspection program is a joint effort of Region II and NRO. Three construction resident inspectors are at each site, supplemented by regional specialists in various disciplines ranging from welding to concrete. Inspectors from headquarters monitor and review the performance of suppliers who ship safety-related components to the sites.

The NRC estimates that the agency’s inspectors will perform some 30,000 hours of inspections for each new unit before the process ends. Specifically, the inspection regimen requires the licensees to verify they have met 875 different ITAAC, or Inspections, Tests, Analyses and Acceptance Criteria. This comprehensive oversight program means any unit that is built would be constructed according to all applicable NRC regulations.

NRC Joins Five Other Agencies in Reporting on Navajo Land Contamination

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer
 

navajoThe government has made good progress in reducing risks from uranium contamination on Navajo land, five federal agencies told Congress in a report last week. EPA compiled the report with input from the NRC, the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and the Indian Health Service.

This report recaps work done since October 2007. At that time, Congress asked the agencies to develop a five-year plan to address the contamination, which dates back to the 1940s.

Demand for uranium skyrocketed near the end of World War II. The ore was needed for nuclear weapons manufacturing and later to fuel commercial power reactors. The Navajo Nation lands had large uranium deposits, but mining and milling then was not nearly as regulated as it is today. Mining companies left extensive contamination requiring cleanup.

In 1978 Congress passed a law to ensure that uranium mill waste (called tailings) would be safely managed into the future. Under that law, DOE is responsible for the long-term care and maintenance of four former mill sites: Tuba City, Ariz.; Shiprock, N.M.; Mexican Hat, Utah; and Monument Valley, Ariz.

The NRC oversees DOE’s work at those sites. For example, DOE is responsible for cleaning up contaminated groundwater at the sites. The NRC reviews those cleanup plans. DOE monitors disposal facilities for uranium mill tailings. The NRC observes DOE inspections at the sites. The NRC also reviews and comments on DOE’s performance and environmental reports.

While the NRC does not regulate mine cleanup, the agency will also be working closely with EPA, DOE, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the Navajo Nation during the cleanup of a contaminated mine site in Church Rock, N.M. This conventional strip mine operated from 1967 to 1982. EPA plans call for the mine waste to be disposed at the nearby Church Rock mill site, which must be done in compliance with NRC disposal regulations.

Over the past five years, NRC staff has met many times with members of the Navajo Nation. We will continue these oversight and outreach activities.

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant – A 2013 Update

Lara Uselding
Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

fcsAs we turn the page on a new year, the NRC is watching closely as the operators of the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, located in Omaha, Neb., are working around the clock in hopes of returning the plant to service. It remains to be seen if the NRC is convinced the efforts of the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) are sufficient.

The plant has been powered down since April 9, 2011, for a refueling outage. The outage was extended due to historic flooding along the Missouri River followed by an electrical fire that led to an “Alert” declaration and further restart complications.

On Jan. 8, OPPD officials and the NRC Fort Calhoun Oversight Panel members met before the five-member NRC Commission to discuss the current plant status. Positive change is on the horizon. “They [OPPD] are looking at problems with a different set of eyes today,” said Mike Hay, NRC Branch Chief and panel member. Some NRC Commissioners also noted the efforts by OPPD management to turn things around. It is also clear more work needs to be done.

In November 2012, the NRC issued a detailed inspection plan listing some 450 items that require attention, inspection, and resolution. Many of these items are subsets of the familiar issues that have been reported over the past two years including the breaker fire, flood strategy concerns, containment penetrations, and containment internal structures issues.

In 2013, there will be numerous NRC inspectors carrying out a very rigorous inspection schedule. A five-member team has already been on site for two weeks to independently verify results from a third-party safety culture assessment done last year. As part of the inspection, NRC held focus group interviews with plant works to assess the current climate and help the NRC understand how in tune management is with staff. Later in February, these results will be used to fuel a second, larger team inspection to fully assess human performance and safety culture at Fort Calhoun.

There is more to come. There will be an announcement soon with details for the next public meeting in Nebraska. The staff will continue to post updates and helpful information to the Fort Calhoun specific Web site.

NRC Hosts Webinar on Palisades Leaks

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Viktoria Mitlyng
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region III
 

We gathered at the NRC’s Region III office near Chicago on a recent Saturday morning to continue our dialogue with the public about the Palisades nuclear plant. We decided to host our second webinar on this plant on a Saturday in response to a request from members of the public to hold it at a time when people aren’t at work.

Close to 100 people listened to the NRC’s presentation by four representatives of the Region III staff and asked questions on a wide range of questions on recent problems at Palisades.

The purpose of the webinar was to talk about the NRC’s regulations on a specific category of leaks – including the leaks that occurred at Palisades in 2012 – and the NRC’s response to these leaks. They are called “through-wall” leaks because they come through the wall of pipes and other plant components important to safety.

Resident inspectors stationed at every nuclear plant in the country continuously monitor any such leaks making sure they are properly understood and handled. Leaks that have no safety impact are not regulated by the NRC.

NRC’s regulations on through-wall leaks are based on the safety significance of the affected equipment. Leaks from the pressure retaining boundary of the reactor coolant system are not allowed and must be fixed right away. Other types of leaks may not require immediate repair but must be fixed before they have a negative impact on plant safety.

We talked about four through-wall leaks identified at Palisades last year; one of these was discovered by an NRC Resident Inspector during a routine daily inspection. Even though these leaks did not compromise plant safety, they concerned us because of their frequency. The agency decided to commit additional resources this year to evaluate these leaks and determine whether they represent a weakness in the plant’s maintenance program.

Three of the four leaks at Palisades have been fixed. The remaining leak from a refueling water tank is closely monitored and will be repaired according to NRC regulations.

We informed the public when the leaks at Palisades were discovered even though the NRC doesn’t normally make public notifications on leaks of very small safety significance. This was done in response to requests from many people to be informed about such issues at the plant.

We will continue the high level of engagement with the public near the Palisades plant to meet the agency’s goal of openness and transparency. Additional webinars on reactor vessel head embrittlement and environmental monitoring are already in the works. In addition, the NRC staff will have a booth at the Garden and Leisure Show in Benton Harbor, Mich., March 15-17.

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