U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Throwback Thursday: Which Plant Is This?

tbtninemilepointSeen from an aerial perspective, a boiling water reactor site is under construction — carved out of part of a 1,500-acre site. Look familiar? Can you guess what plant this is and roughly what year this photo was taken?

NRC Inspectors Head to Indian Point 3’s Electrical Supply Room

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Dousing the fire that ensued after one of the Indian Point 3 nuclear power plant’s main transformers failed on the evening of May 9th required substantial amounts of water, as well as foam. The water was applied by the automatic fire-suppression system for the transformer and by the on-site fire brigade and firefighters from off-site who provided assistance.

indianpointOne of the follow-up concerns for the NRC is that during the event, some water was found on the floor of an enclosed room inside the plant housing electrical supply equipment. The power that flows through that equipment is used to operate plant safety systems and components.

The equipment was not affected by the water during the May 9th event, and the plant was safely shut down. The plant remains out of service while work to install a replacement transformer is carried out.

In order to better understand what occurred, the NRC is launching a Special Inspection at the plant today. The three-member team will evaluate, among other things, how the water – apparently totaling an inch or two on the room’s floor — ended up in the room; and the potential for a significantly larger volume of water to build up and adversely impact the electrical equipment.

The NRC applies risks insights and specific knowledge of plants when determining whether to perform a follow-up inspection and what type. In this case, the NRC decided it was appropriate to conduct a Special Inspection, the first level of “reactive” reviews performed in response to an event. The agency performs such inspections to independently evaluate and assess what occurred during an event, as well as any plans by the plant’s owner to fix related problems.

In addition to the Special Inspection, the NRC is continuing to review the transformer failure, operator and equipment response during the event, and other issues.

A report containing the findings of the Special Inspection will be issued within 45 days after the formal conclusion of the review.

Throwback Thursday – Name the Scientist

Chemist Glenn Seaborg stands next to a periodic table. He is pointing at the synthetic element seaborgium, which is named after him. Dr. Seaborg, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemestry in 1951.

This scientist is best known for discovering an important element, as well as winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His other claim to fame – and the one he apparently cherished most highly – was having an element named in his honor. What was the scientist’s name? What element did he discover and which one was named for him?

Heeding the Sirens – Despite A Few Mishaps

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

sirenResidents of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, who live within the 10-mile emergency planning zone for the Waterford 3 nuclear plant, got an unexpected benefit last week when 37 emergency sirens were sounded for a tornado warning.

St. John Parish is similarly protected by 36 sirens. But thousands of other residents who live in surrounding parishes have no sirens.

The reason: The NRC and FEMA work together to make sure the commercial nuclear power plants in this country have sirens around their sites to alert the public in the event of a serious incident. Various federal, state and local agencies also have emergency notification systems they can use to alert the public to a variety of emergencies — including one at a nuclear plant.

“The people of St. Charles Parrish got the benefit of the emergency sirens that surround Waterford 3,” said Ron Perry, the Director of Emergency Preparedness for Homeland Security in St. Charles Parish.

Each nuclear plant is required to exercise its emergency plan with offsite authorities at least once every two years – which includes checking the siren systems. This helps make sure the plant operator, and state and local authorities, can implement their emergency plans if needed. If all goes according to plan, the interface among all these agencies is seamless.

But things do not always go as planned.

Last year, while preparing for an upcoming emergency exercise at the plant, the National Weather Service inadvertently alerted the public around the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Neb., of an unspecified emergency at the plant. The weather service was updating the wording of messages stored in a computer system when someone pushed the wrong button. This sent an advisory to various news media organizations and some members of the public.

The weather service quickly realized what happened and sent a message explaining the error to the media 13 minutes later. But, the mishap received plenty of news coverage.

Unfortunately, this was the second recent incident about emergencies at the Cooper nuclear plant. On July 24, Nebraska Public Power District workers were working on a computer system that controls sirens in Nemaha County when a false alarm was broadcast.

There have been two other similar incidents at Region IV nuclear plants in recent memory:

Last summer, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. workers were upgrading their siren system around Diablo Canyon when they inadvertently activated one at 3:30 in the afternoon. It sounded continuously for 14 minutes before workers were able to deactivate it remotely. It took 10 minutes before county officials sent out an advisory noting the error. Some people vented their anger about all the confusion on the county’s Facebook page, and several local TV stations and the Associated Press carried reports about the incident.

sirenNot a week later, something similar happened in Washington State. During a training class at the state Emergency Operations Center, a staffer inadvertently faxed a partially filled out form for an Alert (the second lowest level of nuclear emergency) at Columbia Generating Station. The fax went to nine different emergency management agencies, including one in Canada. A second fax was quickly sent out correcting the error.

The NRC is primarily concerned with the reliability of sirens. The NRC tracks the performance of licensee alert and notification systems by measuring the number of successful siren tests conducted quarterly at each plant. These types of incidents are embarrassing to all involved and in each instance corrective actions have been taken to minimize the chance of future mishaps.

But the bottom line is that residents in the communities around nuclear power plants need to heed the warning, and trust the emergency alert systems. A few false alarms should not change their response. If you hear a siren, or get a text message on your phone announcing an emergency, please heed the warning.

The NRC Celebrates Public Service Recognition Week

PSRW_logo_300x134Public Service Recognition Week has been celebrated the first week of May since 1985. It’s a time set aside to honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees. In honor of this week, we bring you a Q&A with Dan Dorman. He is representative of the more than 3,000 employees of the NRC who are dedicated to their job – and good at what they do.

Q. What does your job entail and how long have you been in federal service?

A. I am the Regional Administrator for NRC’s Region I office in Pennsylvania. We oversee safety and security at 25 nuclear reactors in the Northeast and more than 900 nuclear materials licensees in the eastern United States. I’ve been with the NRC for 24 years in various roles, most recently as deputy director of the operating reactors office in headquarters and before that as deputy director of the nuclear materials office.  Over the years, I’ve served in reactor licensing and oversight, engineering research, nuclear security, and fuel facility licensing and oversight. Before joining the NRC in 1991, I served as a nuclear submarine officer in the U.S. Navy for almost a decade.

Q. Why did you decide to go into federal government service?

A. My degree is in naval architecture and marine engineering; I joined the Navy out of college to get operational experience that I felt would enhance my skills. I left the Navy for work-life balance and came to the NRC to apply the nuclear power knowledge and skills that I had gained through my Navy service.

Dan Dorman

Dan Dorman

Q. Over the years , what has kept you interested in your job and willing to stay in federal service?

A. When I first came to the NRC, I had no intention of staying this long. The main reasons I have are the mission and the people. During the first decade I was at the NRC, the agency reduced from roughly 3300 to 2700 staff and opportunities for promotion were rare, but as I got engaged in our public health and safety mission and came to realize the caliber and engagement of the people I was working with, my sense of family and dedication to the mission made my career choice clear.

Q. What would you consider to be one of your greatest challenges while working for the NRC?

A. I have become fascinated with people (which is a big deal for an engineer!). A lot of times our biggest challenges are working with people who have shared goals (e.g., public health and safety, common defense and security) but differing visions of how best to achieve those goals. Working security and incident response issues with other federal agencies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and working with international counterparts to enhance nuclear safety worldwide following the Fukushima accident are great examples. We all have a passion to make it better, but the hard work is in listening to each other’s ideas and not jumping ahead to drive to your own preconceived conclusions. In the end, if we can hear each other out, we end up with a stronger and more sustainable path forward.

Q. What would you consider to be one of your greatest work accomplishments?

A. It was a tremendous privilege to be part of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima lessons learned in 2011. The team we put together had tremendous diversity of experience and perspective. In 90 days we had time to engage senior NRC staff to explore a broad range of issues arising from the accident even as news continued to come in daily from Japan. We did not have time or the tasking for public engagement. Still, we produced a report and recommended actions that have stood the test of time. The most important safety improvements have already been completed at many nuclear power plants and will be completed at all of them by the end of next year, and our recommendations have served as a model for other nuclear safety regulators all over the world.

Q. What would you like the public to know about federal employees, that perhaps they don’t know?

A. We are your neighbors and active participants in your community. The people I work with have exceptional skills and experience and are highly motivated by our mission to protect people and the environment. We’re also active members of our communities, giving back in many ways well beyond our jobs. We give generously to help those less fortunate, we organize blood drives, we do outreach in our schools to help encourage our young people to develop their skills and be engaged citizens. Beyond our careers and our mission, we are working every day to make the world a better place, now and for the future.

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