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Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness and Response

Even the Best Guidance Can Be Updated

Don Tailleart
Regulatory Improvements Team Leader
Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response

 

Well-written documents can stand the test of time – just look at the Declaration of Independence. The NRC and FEMA aimed for durability 30 years ago as we responded to the Three Mile Island accident. We co-wrote criteria for nuclear power plants to prepare and evaluate emergency response plans and preparedness programs. That guidance document has been the go-to standard for plant staff, and emergency preparedness managers at the state, local and tribal level.

The NRC and FEMA realized, however, that when a document starts showing its age it’s time for a revision. That’s why a joint NRC/FEMA team is revising NUREG-0654/FEMA-REP-1. This is an update rather than a complete rewrite. Our aim is to make the guidance more user-friendly by restructuring and streamlining it with a focus on evaluation criteria.

Evaluation criteria, by the way, are the parts of emergency plans and preparedness programs that directly respond to NRC or FEMA requirements. Both agencies use evaluation criteria when reviewing emergency plans to make sure the preparedness programs are acceptable.

Before starting on the revision, the NRC and FEMA took suggestions from the public and interested groups. Our writing teams used that information to refocus preliminary evaluation criteria language on capabilities and overall program elements. We’ve moved more detailed information on evaluation criteria implementation to a new NRC emergency preparedness guidance document and to the FEMA Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program Manual.

These changes reduced the number of criteria from 381 to about 190. Both the NRC and FEMA believe the updated criteria will provide an appropriate basis for U.S. nuclear power plants and state/local/tribal governments to develop radiological emergency plans and improve emergency preparedness.

Our writers have also been updating and adding several topics to the document’s introduction. The updated intro will address the document’s purpose, scope, and background, as well as the basis for developing emergency plans. New introduction topics include how the document will be used and how the document relates to regulations and other guidance documents. It also includes information on the alternative approaches used to meet NRC and FEMA requirements.

We expect to have the revised preliminary draft ready by the end of May. We’ll make the document available for public review and discussion, including holding another public meeting/webinar in late June at NRC headquarters. We expect to have a formal public comment period on the draft document starting in October 2014.

 

Southern California Fire Puts Spotlight on NRC Regs

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

 A wildfire broke out on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego last Wednesday. The smoke could be seen by staff at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and a handful of non-essential plant workers were sent home as a precaution.

 Firefighters from Camp Pendleton, in California, work to douse a wildfire.


Firefighters from Camp Pendleton, in California, work to douse a wildfire.

Members of the plant’s fire department responded to the event and sprayed water on vegetation at the plant’s South Yard to retard the fire’s progress. San Onofre also dispatched some of its personnel to Camp Pendleton to assist base personnel with firefighting efforts on the ground, while helicopters from the Marine base dropped buckets of water on the fire.

The blaze, which was sparked by an accident on Interstate 5, was brought under control in a few hours and never got closer than a half-mile from the owner-controlled area of the plant.

The San Onofre nuclear plant is shut down and preparing to decommission, and remained stable throughout the event. An NRC inspector onsite verified plant conditions and monitored the licensee’s response to the fire from the plant’s control room, relaying information to the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas. Because the fire never reached the site or disrupted offsite power to the plant, no emergency declaration was necessary.

But the fire – and the start of the fire season in the West – does highlight NRC regulations related to natural disasters. As a part of their emergency preparedness plans, nuclear power plants are required by the NRC to be able to respond to a variety of natural disasters – hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and fires — which can disrupt offsite power needed for vital plant equipment, interfere with access to the site and cause damage to equipment and threaten the safety of personnel.

NRC requires that all nuclear plants have personnel who have been specially trained and are qualified to respond to fires. Some plants, like Diablo Canyon, maintain on-site fire departments. Others, like San Onofre, have arrangements with off-site fire departments or organizations like Camp Pendleton to supplement their initial response. NRC inspects these response plans to ensure their adequacy and effectiveness.

On Wednesday, we saw those plans put into action. It might not be the last time this year. The need for vigilance will continue in the months ahead for plants located in areas where a prolonged drought is raising concerns about the upcoming summer wildfire season.

Fukushima Daiichi Now: Images and Perspectives

NRC officials tour one of the damaged units at the Fukushima Daiichi plant during their trip in February.
NRC officials tour one of the damaged units at the Fukushima Daiichi plant during their trip in February.
Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II
 

In February, an NRC delegation, mostly comprised of senior managers responsible for reactor oversight, travelled to Japan to see, hear about and learn from the accident there in March 2011.

I was there to record the images and sounds of the trip – from the meetings to the tours of facilities, including the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, and the surrounding countryside. In interviews and conversations, I heard varied perspectives, but my focus was almost completely on people:

  • The people whose homes and businesses and schools now sit abandoned near the plant – some knowing they may never go home again.
  • The people who worked at the plant during and after the accident trying to keep the situation from being worse.
  • The people who now work at the site donning protective clothing each day as they slowly tackle the mammoth cleanup.
  • The people across Japan who continue to struggle with their view of nuclear power.

I wish we had been able to spend more time in the evacuated areas near the plant, but even the hours we were there carved indelible images in my memory. It’s interesting how seeing areas without people made me think about the missing people even more.

When it comes to nuclear safety, the most important people are those working inside or living closest to the plants. There is no stronger evidence than the images we captured during the trip.

It was difficult to distill all we saw and heard into the short video we posted on the NRC YouTube channel, but I hope we were able to show the essence of the trip…and for me, it was all about people.

 

An NRC Official Writes About His First-Hand View of the Japan Nuclear Disaster

Eric Leeds
Director, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation
 

Last month, I traveled to Japan with a group of senior NRC executives, including all four Regional Administrators. We spent a busy week meeting with representatives from various Japanese organizations involved in nuclear activities, as well as touring the Kashiwazaki Kariwa, Fukushima Dai-ni and Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plants.

At the end of almost every day, we took time to reflect, to discuss what we learned, and to record our thoughts. I wanted to offer a few personal insights from what I found to be a profound experience.

On the bus ride to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the accident in 2011, we passed through the town of Tomioka, about 7 to 10 km south of the site. Before the accident, Tomioka had been a vibrant seaside village of approximately 16,000 residents. It was a resort town, with its own train stop, beachfront, restaurants and hotels.

test11The town is now empty, uninhabitable because of radiological contamination (about 1 microsievert an hour). There are no inhabitants, no electricity, no running water. The damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami remains. Those who had lived in the town are now allowed to enter to visit their homes, but they can’t stay overnight. The authorities are decontaminating the town and plan to have it inhabitable in about three years. Thinking about the people who, for all this time, have lost their homes, lost their jobs, and lost their community leaves me feeling sick to my stomach. For me, a career safety regulator, the feeling is very personal.

When we reached the site, we boarded a different bus, a bus prepared for a contaminated site, with plastic herculite covering the seats and more plastic and duct tape covering the floor. We donned a full set of anti-contamination clothing, shoe covers, and respirators. There are about 250 cars, trucks, and buses on site, ferrying a site workforce of about 4,000 workers. As we passed workers at the site and in other vehicles, it struck me that everyone was wearing full anti-Cs, respirators, and helmets. It left me with an eerie feeling, as if I were in a science fiction movie.

We toured the site, often leaving the bus to see specific site areas. While a great deal of work has already been accomplished, much of the damage from the earthquake and tsunami remains, if only pushed to the side. Broken buildings, twisted metal, crushed concrete and smashed vehicles still litter the site. TEPCO is currently moving the spent fuel from the Unit 4 spent fuel pool to the common pool for the site, and we toured both pools. Since we could not get into the containments of the damaged reactors due to the ongoing high dose rates, our hosts took us to the torus room of the undamaged Unit 5 containment, to show us where the containment vent valves were located on the damaged units. This was done so we could understand the difficulty the operators faced in trying to manually open the valves.

ericquote1I tried to picture the challenge for the operators, going into this confined area in pitch black, the heat stifling, the dose rate steadily increasing, looking for the valves they’d have to operate manually. The descriptions of the accident from the operators who lived through the ordeal will stay with me forever. Many of them truly believed they were going to die. They had no idea if their families survived the tsunami or where their families were. Yet they stayed and fought the accident. They were incredibly courageous.

I am more convinced than ever that the Fukushima lessons learned we are requiring the industry to implement are critical to ensure an accident like the one at Fukushima doesn’t happen here. We have to ensure the licensees fully implement, maintain, and exercise the Fukushima lessons learned. We have to make sure the licensees prepare their facilities and are ready to confront the unexpected. We are the ones who are accountable to and responsible for protecting the American public. It’s our job. For me, it’s personal. It’s what I’m here to do.

Marking Three Years of Post-Fukushima Progress

Allison M. Macfarlane
Chairman
 

The approach to the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor complex winds through empty villages where weeds grow in silent communities, storefronts are shattered and advertising signs entice a population that may be years in returning.

A year ago I visited the site of the devastating March 11, 2011, accident triggered by a massive 9.0 earthquake and subsequent 46-foot tsunami.

Chairman Allison Macfarlane and other NRC officials stand in the darkened interior of Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex northeast of Tokyo Dec. 13, 2012. Photo courtesy of TEPCO

Chairman Allison Macfarlane and other NRC officials stand in the darkened interior of Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex northeast of Tokyo Dec. 13, 2012. Photo courtesy of TEPCO

The site where four of six reactors were inundated bears testament not only to the power of the natural forces but also to the huge hydrogen explosions that rocked three of the reactors. Rusting trucks lay about the property. And thousands of workers in protective gear and full-face respirators scramble over the shattered industrial complex.

It is hard to visit the site without coming away impressed with the forces at work and a recognition this cannot be allowed to happen again anywhere. In the United States, we must redouble our efforts to prevent such an accident here, whether caused by an earthquake, another natural disaster or a man-made event.

Not long after the accident at Fukushima, the independent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission I chair embarked on a concerted effort to learn and apply lessons from Fukushima. The Commission set out a three-tiered program of safety enhancements.

Many of the recommendations — while complex — are grounded in simple concepts. Among them are ensuring all U.S. plants take the latest seismic and flooding information into account; ensuring that the 31 U.S. early design boiling water reactors similar to those at Fukushima have the capacity to vent pressure and perhaps even filter vented air; ensuring there is sufficient additional equipment at the ready to deal with a loss of power at a reactor site and provide backup cooling; and getting additional sensors and cooling capacity for spent fuel pools.

The NRC staff and the nuclear industry have made good progress in responding to the recommendations to date.

We have approved plans for nuclear power plants to buy additional equipment and distribute it around their sites so that they will be able to respond even if a severe event disables permanently installed equipment. They are in the process of installing spent fuel pool instrumentation, and this spring and fall they will begin major work to accommodate hardened venting systems and additional wiring and piping to connect to newly installed cooling equipment.

JLD vertical CEvery U.S. plant is in the process of completing an in-depth reanalysis of their sites’ potential for floods and earthquakes. We’ve checked the first flooding analyses and expect more in soon. We also expect the earthquake analyses from the vast majority of U.S. plants by the end of March. We’ll ensure the plants compare their sites’ new analyses to their existing designs to see what enhancements might be needed.

The NRC has conducted our work following Fukushima in a spirit of openness and transparency, and we’ve benefitted greatly from public feedback. Over the past three years we’ve addressed Fukushima-related topics in more than 150 public meetings. These meetings let the public see and participate in discussions on proposed NRC actions and the industry’s responses.

Finally, let me address the occasional Internet-based concerns we’ve seen about Fukushima contamination in the Pacific Ocean. Contamination near Japan’s coast is well below U.S. and international drinking water limits. And the Pacific’s vast volume has greatly dispersed any contamination before it can reach our west coast. Here the concentrations are projected to be hundreds or a thousand or more times below already strict U.S. and international limits that protect public health and the environment. Scientists have not seen any Fukushima contamination that raises a concern about the U.S. food supply, water supply, or public health.

The images of Fukushima are indelibly impressed on my mind. Even now I’m still struck by the experience of seeing the empty nearby villages, each holding memories of the 160,000 people displaced by the accident. Fukushima put nuclear safety in the spotlight. As we continue our work to address lessons learned, the NRC is committed to keeping it there

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