U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Lights, Camera, Action — NRC Raised the YouTube Bar in 2013

Ivonne L. Couret
Public Affairs Officer
 

We had a very productive year on our YouTube Channel in 2013. We posted more than 30 videos, including 15 produced in-CoverPHoto Video copyhouse with original content. The latest is a recap of some of the highlights and accomplishments of 2014.

Other “original content” videos included four that spotlighted high-interest topics; six that included agency staff answering questions about NRC activities; two that reflected on historical events and two kid-friendly videos including our first cartoon.

youtube2That cartoon, A Day in the Life of an NRC Resident Inspector, made it to our No. 3 spot for all-time video views – quite a feat considering it was just posted in October. Another popular video was our historian’s recount of the Three Mile Island Accident.

Other videos include small segments of important Commission meetings, with links to the full video archive.

We saw a 38 percent increase in our YouTube subscribers and growing interest in the platform. Almost half of our total YouTube views occurred in 2013 even though we debuted the platform back in 2011. Our numbers keep growing and the public continues to watch us.

What’s next? Being mindful of the reduction of resources and budget, there will be a bit fewer videos produced in 2014. But we will be focusing our efforts on the higher interest topics.

Currently in pre-production are two videos we think you’ll find worth watching. One is a conversation about the decommissioning process since five nuclear power plants have announced they are shutting down. And we will be taking a historical look on how the NRC began.

Also, next year we will be featuring more motion graphic videos that will provide quick, lively presentations of NRC information, activities and programs.

What video topics would you like to see? Let us know through your blog comments or email us at opa.resource@nrc.gov .

Keeping Proper Track of Spent Fuel Pool Conditions

Lauren Gibson
Project Manager
Japan Lessons-Learned Directorate
 

While “spent fuel pool #4” at Fukushima Daiichi did keep its contents safe during the March 2011 accident, no one could confirm that during the accident. The plant’s staff and other experts, including the NRC, simply didn’t have enough information to know what was going on in the pool. Why not? There was no reliable way to measure the pool’s water level.

SFP_instrKnowing the water level is important because if the pool had boiled dry, it would have damaged the fuel and added to the accident’s radiation release. The Japanese plant’s staff did the right thing in assuming the worst and making many attempts to add water to the pool. They even dropped water from helicopters. If they had known the pools were OK, however, they would have been able to focus on addressing the real problem: the damaged reactors.

This experience led the NRC to order U.S. nuclear power plants to add instrumentation to their spent fuel pools. That way, if an accident occurs at a U.S. reactor, plant staff will be able to tell when the spent fuel pool needed attention. Spent fuel pool instrumentation will help plant staff properly prioritize their accident response and keep the public safe.

U.S. reactors already monitor a small fraction of the water level in the spent fuel pool. However, this system may not work if power is lost, as it was at Fukushima, and can’t provide advance warning of low water levels.

The NRC’s order requires U.S. reactors to be able to tell whether water is at or above certain important levels. The highest level means enough water is available for the normal cooling system to work. The second level marks the level of water needed to protect someone standing next to the pool from the fuel’s radiation. The lowest level is still enough to cover the fuel, but the plant staff should begin adding more water to the pool.

Of course, water may be added—and most likely would be—prior to reaching this point. The order also requires that plant staff must be able to read these levels from somewhere away from the pool, such as in the control room.

U.S. reactors must install the new instruments no later than two refueling cycles after they submit their plan to the NRC or by the end of 2016, whichever comes first. All U.S. plants submitted their instrumentation plans in February 2013. We’ve been reviewing the plans and we recently issued interim staff evaluations. These documents give the plants feedback so they can continue on the right track for implementing the order.

The evaluations also ask plants for additional information we need to complete our review. While the agency’s final approval is yet to come, the interim evaluations give plants the confidence to order equipment and move forward with installing the instruments. We’ll provide the plants a final staff evaluation when we can conclude that they’ll comply with the order by the deadline by following their plan. We’ll continue inspecting plants to confirm they’ve finished complying with the order.

Our website’s Japan Lessons Learned section has a page with more information about the order and related guidance.

Starting a Reactor Design Review the Right Way

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer
 

A few months ago, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. gave the NRC an application to certify the company’s Advanced Power Reactor 1400 design for use in the U.S. We’d been having “pre-application” discussions with the company since April 2010.

In September of this year, the company felt its information was ready for a full review. After our acceptance check of the application, however, we’ve decided the process should remain at the pre-application stage.

While most of the application’s sections and chapters have enough information for the NRC to review, there are important exceptions. For example, our technical experts don’t see a clear path for predictably and efficiently reviewing important areas such as instruments and controls, how human actions affect reactor operations, and assessing risk.

We also didn’t see enough detail for some specific technical issues, such as reactor coolant pump design, potential corrosion of some internal reactor parts and protecting plant staff from radiation. Other areas referenced technical reports to be submitted in the future.

At this point it’s the company’s decision on how to proceed – if they wish to continue pre-application meetings and related discussions, we’ll certainly do so. The formal review, however, will have to wait until the NRC is satisfied the application has enough information for our staff to create a reasonable, reliable schedule and milestones for the certification process.

Let’s be clear – none of this represents any sort of NRC technical conclusion regarding the Korean reactor design. We’re well aware that other countries are building or considering the design, and we continue to work with a multinational group discussing this and other new reactor designs. This decision doesn’t set any precedents, either. We’ve previously decided against accepting the initial applications for both a U.S.-based design certification and a new reactor operating license. The NRC also followed this path for a couple of applications to renew existing U.S. reactor licenses.

The bottom line is that the NRC must ensure proposed reactor designs can meet our safety requirements. We owe it not only to the public to do that job properly, but also to applicants to do so effectively and predictably. The best way to do that is to have the appropriate information in hand before we begin our work.

What is Your Favorite NRC Reg Guide?

Commissioner Apostolakis congratulates contest winner Adam Glazer.

Commissioner Apostolakis congratulates contest winner Adam Glazer.

Mekonen Bayssie
Regulatory Guide Development Branch
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
 

It was an unexpected pronouncement when, during the annual All Employees Meeting at the NRC, Commissioner George Apostolakis admitted Regulatory Guide 1.174 – otherwise known as “An Approach for Using Probabilistic Risk Assessment in Risk-Informed Decisions on Plant Specific Changes to the Licensing Basis” — was his favorite. It was not a surprising admission, though, since the Commissioner had been on the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and active in the development of the guide.

But it got us thinking – Reg guides are important documents that offer guidance on ways agency regulations can be implemented. Does anyone else have a favorite Regulatory Guide?

So we asked employees to submit their favorites. The winner would get $50 donated to his or her favorite Combined Federal Campaign charity.

Adam Glazer, an IT specialist, won the contest with his tongue-in-cheek tribute to Regulatory Guide 10.8 – otherwise known as the “Guide for the Preparation of Applications for Medical Use Programs.” His tribute claimed that particular guide had been involved in historic events ranging from saving the troops at Valley Forge in 1775 to helping mediate peace during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

In a more serious vein, Julio Lara, of Region III, declared Regulatory Guide 1.26 “Quality Group Classifications and Standards for Water-, Steam-, and Radioactive Waste-Containing Components of Nuclear Power Plants” as his favorite. That guide had tripped him up during his Inspector Qualification Oral Board in 1989, and he had to study it and twice demonstrate his knowledge of it before being certified as an inspector.

Christine Lipa, also of Region III, also had a personal reason for her favorite regulatory guide. She cited Regulatory Guide 1.97, “Criteria for Accident Monitoring Instrumentation for Nuclear Power Plants.” This document provided guidance to the nuclear power industry as it implemented new requirements after Three Mile Island accident. “When I was a new inspector in Region III in 1990, this was the first set of inspections I was involved in,” she wrote.

In his submission, Stuart Richards, of the Office of Regulatory Research, declared Regulatory Guide 1.1 “Net Positive Suction Head for Emergency Core Cooling and Containment Heat Removal System Pumps” as his favorite. He said it was the first safety guide (dated November 1970), it was only one page long and it has never been revised “so it must be good.”

Mark King, of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, cited Regulatory Guide 1.33 “Quality Assurance Program Requirements (Operation)” as ‘the most awesome.” He said it’s the foundation for licensees having proper procedures for operating the plant and handling emergencies, and is the most frequently cited Reg Guide by inspectors when writing up finding and violations.

Other favorites included Regulatory Guide 8.26 “Applications of Bioassay for Fission and Activation Products” and Regulatory Guide 1.76 “Design-Basis Tornado and Tornado Missiles for Nuclear Power Plants.”

So, the question is: Do you have a favorite Regulatory Guide?

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