U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Monthly Archives: March 2014

The NRC Supports Local Science with A Special Student Award

Jenny Tobin
Project Manager
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulations
 

The Montgomery County (Md.) Science fair, aka “ScienceMontgomery,” is not your average science fair. Many of the students living in the communities around the NRC headquarters have access to advanced science curricula and research opportunities, and there is a large pool of high-tech, biomedical, and research institutes that set the bar high for hands-on learning.

For me, who grew up in a very small Midwest farming community, serving as a judge for a special NRC award is always an eye-opening experience.

Jenny Tobin reviews Montgomery County, Md., science projects for a special NRC award.

Jenny Tobin reviews Montgomery County, Md., science projects for a special NRC award.

I was in good company with a 14-person volunteer team of NRC employees who got to evaluate more than 300 science projects from local middle schools and high schools. I was on the team that reviewed the high school projects and we picked the top three for NRC Community Awards that demonstrated achievement and application to the NRC mission, goals and responsibilities.

What I find most interesting, year after year, is watching, listening and seeing the current trends in topics the students choose as their science project.

A science project can be an experiment, a demonstration, a research effort, a collection of scientific items or display of scientific apparatus presented for viewing. This year there was a huge surge in cyber security, computer modeling and analyses projects throughout the fair.

In the high school completion judges must listen to the student’s presentation and their responses to questions asked. You can tell immediately which students know their topics and which ones have had too much adult or parental support.

What stands out when you speak to students can easily be summed up in their ingenuity of their project design, subject knowledge and passion for discovery solutions. I found these in the 2014 NRC award winners.

I particularly find amazing how the students re-engineer and recycle materials, and create new working designs. In the case of the first place project “Replacing Modern Sprinkler Systems with Infrared Detection to Locate and Extinguish Fires,” it was cool how they took motherboards, rubber bands and other common household items to create a working product that used infrared sensor technology to detect the hot spots of a fire and direct water to this location. For the NRC, fire protection and fire code continues to be a major spotlight issue in nuclear power plants and facilities. 

When I listened to the student whose project, “Saturated Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits of Quantum Chromodynamics,” his ownership or mastery of the subject and presentation was so amazing that it made me flash back to my own quantum physics professors in college. This high-schooler was so savvy and professional. Basically his project worked through mathematical proofs, from first principles, on fundamental properties of quantum chromodynamics.   

NRC Deputy Executive Director Michael Weber (left) presents special awards for projects that relate to the agency's work. Also in the picture (left to right) students Richard Wang, Kevin Chen, Andrew Komo, Noah Kim, George Klees and the NRC’s Kreslyon Fleming.

NRC Deputy Executive Director Michael Weber (left) presents special awards for projects that relate to the agency’s work. Also in the picture (left to right) students Richard Wang, Kevin Chen, Andrew Komo, Noah Kim, George Klees and the NRC’s Kreslyon Fleming.

Novel solutions to real world problems such as “Finding Ways to Reduce Rush Hour Commute Times Using Computer Simulations” were another common theme at the science fair. This student programmed a simulation for a certain section of highway to evaluate potential solutions (such as adding exits, increasing the speed limit, adding a lane, etc.) to determine the best method to reduce traffic delays. He used data from the Department of Transportation to construct a true-to-life model of the situation. I could use less traffic to and from work!

In the end, learning about science is at the heart of a science fair; and anything I can do to fuel this passion is reward enough. By the way, the NRC supports this event because it is a way to give back to the community, engage students with an interest in STEM careers and – possibly – as a future recruitment tool. Winners receive an award certificate, a chance to present their projects to NRC staff and a NRC logo merchandise gift certificate.

Nine students were selected for the NRC Community Award that demonstrated achievement and application to the NRC mission, goals and responsibilities.

Middle School (Junior) Division:

1st Place: Raspberry Pi Controlled Robots — Student: Kevin Chen; Roberto Clemente Middle School

2nd Place: Securing Computer Networks — Students: George Klees and Theo Tosini; Takoma Park Middle School

3rd Place: The Efficiency of Data Encryption Methods — Student(s): Andrew Komo and Noah Kim; Takoma Park Middle School

High School (Senior) Division:

1st Place: Replacing Modern Sprinkler Systems with Infrared Detection to Locate and Extinguish Fires — Students: Ishan Mundra and Karan Chawla; Poolesville High School

2nd Place: Saturated Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits of Quantum Chromodynamics — Student: Ishaun Datta; Montgomery Blair High School

3rd Place: Finding Ways to Reduce Rush Hour Commute Times Using Computer Simulations — Student: Richard Wang; Poolesville High School

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant – An Update on the 35th Anniversary

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 
The Three Mile Island Unit 2 Control Room bustles during the crisis in 1979. For more historical information, click on the photo to go to the NRC YouTube video about the accident.

The Three Mile Island Unit 2 Control Room bustles during the crisis in 1979. For more historical information, click on the photo to go to the NRC YouTube video about the accident.

Today marks 35 years since the accident at the Three Mile Island 2 nuclear power plant. As is the case every year, it represents another opportunity to reflect on the most significant nuclear power plant accident to ever occur in the U.S.

Perhaps less well known to the average citizen is where things stand in terms of the Middletown, Pa., site all these years later.

GPU Nuclear, which owned the plant at the time of the accident, removed the damaged fuel from the reactor and decontaminated the plant in ensuing years. Once the plant was placed in a safe, stable condition, it transitioned to what is known as “post-defueled monitored storage” — a change that was formally approved by the NRC in 1993.

Last year, the current owner, FirstEnergy, submitted a roadmap to the agency on its plans for eventual dismantling the plant. Those details were contained in a document called a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, or PSDAR.

In short, the plant will remain in storage until its neighboring reactor, Three Mile Island 1, permanently ceases operations, something currently expected to happen in 2034. Once that happens, decommissioning work on both units will be undertaken, but those efforts are projected to take many years.

NRC regulations allow up to 60 years for the completion of decommissioning activities for U.S. nuclear power plants.

A view of the TMI-2 control room, last year, with two NRC inspectors.

A view of the TMI-2 control room, last year, with two NRC inspectors.

Meanwhile, the NRC will continue to inspect TMI-2 at regular intervals. The focus of those reviews includes maintenance of the structures, management oversight, fire protection and plant support activities. The results of those inspections can be found in the NRC’s electronic documents system.

While another anniversary has arrived for TMI, the work on keeping close watch on the plant goes on, and will continue for many years to come.

The NRC Wants to Put the “U” in Strategic Plan

Francine Goldberg
Senior Advisor for Performance Management

 

Well, we do realize there is no “u” in “strategic plan,” but the NRC is drafting its 2014-2018 road map and we want your input before we finalize it.

Picture1The plan is updated every four years and is used to guide our work. You may not be aware that all of NRC’s business lines (operating reactors, new reactors, fuel facilities, nuclear materials, etc.) link their annual plans to the strategic plan and all our senior executive performance plans are linked to it as well.

If you’re familiar with our previous Strategic Plan, you’ll notice our mission and strategic goals remain basically unchanged, but the new plan does contain some new components. For example, a vision statement has been added to emphasize the importance, not only of what we achieve, but of how we regulate And there are now three strategic objectives, one for safety and two for security.

Each objective has associated strategies and key activities that will be used to achieve them. For example, this is one of the strategies for the safety objective along with three key activities:

Ensure the NRC’s readiness to respond to incidents and emergencies involving NRC-licensed facilities and radioactive materials, and other events of domestic and international interest.

·        Use operational experience and lessons learned from emergency-preparedness exercises to inform the regulatory activities.

·        Coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal partners to strengthen national readiness and response capabilities.

·        Employ outreach before, during, and after emergency-preparedness exercises, and increase collaboration and sharing of best practices and lessons learned after emergency-preparedness exercises and incidents.

The goal of the comment period is to take advantage of the collective knowledge of the public – there is a “u” in public, after all — to make sure our plan is as good as it can be.

Picture1Why should you take the time to comment? Well, perhaps you are aware of a key external factor that we have missed that could affect the strategies and activities we have planned. Or maybe you have ideas for additional strategies or activities we need to focus on to achieve one of our objectives. This is your opportunity to weigh in and tell us if we are addressing the issues of importance to you. 

All comments will be reviewed and incorporated, as appropriate, into a revised plan. The disposition of substantive comments will be included in a Commission paper transmitting the resulting plan to the Commission for their final review and approval. 

Please submit your comments online through the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov using Docket ID NRC-2013-0230; or by mail to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements, and Directives Branch, Office of Administration, Mail Stop:  3WFN-06-44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. The comment period is coming quickly. It closes on 04/04/2014. Comments on this blog post cannot be considered, so please use the official channels. More information is also available in the Federal Register Notice.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Spring Is Annual Assessment Time at the NRC

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer
 

cherrytreeSpring is here at last, and with it the season of NRC’s annual assessments of nuclear power plant performance during the previous calendar year. The Office of Public Affairs is issuing press releases faster than trees drop pollen announcing public meetings in the vicinity of each plant to update residents on how their local plants performed.

These meetings are routine, in that we hold them every year. Yet they are important, because they represent a report card of sorts on plant safety and because they give the agency a chance to reach out to its most important stakeholders — the people who live near the plants and have the highest stake in their safe operation.

The annual assessment letters were issued to the plants earlier this month. And the grades were mostly good. As of the end of December, 89 of 100 operating commercial nuclear reactors were in the two highest performance categories. Of those, 80 were in the highest level, with nine others requiring some additional oversight to correct issues of low safety significance. Another nine were in the third category, requiring even more oversight to correct what we call “degraded” performance.

More good news though – between December 31 and the time the assessments were issued, four of these 18 reactors in the lower second and third column had resolved their issues and moved back into the top category.

One reactor, Browns Ferry 1 in Alabama, is in the fourth performance category. It requires increased oversight because of a safety finding of high significance – including additional inspections to confirm the plant’s performance issues are being addressed.

Finally, Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska is currently under a special NRC oversight program distinct from the normal performance levels because of an extended shutdown with significant performance issues. The plant remains under special oversight even though the NRC approved its restart last December.

You can find the report card for your local plant on the NRC website’s Reactor Oversight Process page. Just click on the plant’s name in the left-hand column, then look for the 4Q/2013 assessment report on the plant’s individual page. Here you will also find each plant’s current placement in the NRC action matrix, along with performance indicators and inspection findings. Press releases about when your local plant’s assessment meeting will be held can be found here.

It’s That Time Again – Open Government Plan Revision Time

Stu Reiter
Co-Chair Open Government Advisory Group
 

NRC Open GovYou probably hoped we were talking about Spring – long awaited for those of us on the East Coast – but in truth, we’re talking about the every-two-year review of the agency’s Open Government plan.

We published our first plan on April 7, 2010, and then issued a revision on June 7, 2010, to reflect your feedback. In April 2012, we updated our plan again – although our effort to get your feedback wasn’t what we’d describe as a resounding success.

On June 1, 2014, we will re-publish our plan. Among other things, we will note accomplishments over the past two years and plans over the next two years, including:

• Focusing on improving the process of handling Freedom of Information Act requests;

• Embracing the President’s Digital Government Strategy and, among other initiatives, deploying a mobile-based public meeting feedback option;

• Continuing to grow our social media program with increased subscriber and viewer rates – at times nearly doubling previous years’ statistics;

• Continuing to enhance our collaboration with state and tribal governments through a range of outreach efforts;

• Continuing to enhance our collaboration with the international community, with increased focus on sharing information after the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident;

• Improving the public’s ability to participate in the NRC’s regulatory processes by creating a one-stop web location for rulemaking actions and other documents open for comment;

• Modernizing the management of our records to make information capture and categorization more complete and transparent; and

• Enhancing stakeholder involvement in public meetings using technologies such as web streaming and conferencing

NRC Open GovAs we finalize our plan, we invite your thoughts on how we can further improve our openness program and its focus on transparency, participation and collaboration.

While comments are welcome at any time, comments must be received by April 4, 2014, to be considered specifically for the June update. Please submit your thoughts as comments to this post or via our Online Comment Form. We very much look forward to hearing from you!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,509 other followers

%d bloggers like this: