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Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness and Response

Watching Response Centers Put Trucks on the Road

Lauren Gibson
Project Manager
Japan Lessons-Learned Division

 

The nuclear industry has officially opened two National Response Centers — in Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix, Ariz. These response centers help U.S. nuclear power plants meet the requirements of the NRC’s Mitigation Strategies Order, which we issued after the Fukushima accident.

The centers, previously called Regional Response Centers, contain extra equipment to duplicate plants’ emergency diesel generators, pumps, hoses and so on. This equipment would maintain plant safety functions for an indefinite period if an event disabled a plant’s installed safety systems. An industry group, called the Strategic Alliance for FLEX Emergency Response (SAFER), is managing the response centers. This organization also has two control centers that are separate from response centers and would coordinate equipment deliveries.

mitigation_strategies_infographic_r4SAFER has completed two exercises to demonstrate to the NRC they can get backup equipment to any site within 24 hours. NRC staff observed these “proof-of-concept” exercises. The first demonstrated transporting emergency equipment by road from the Memphis response center to the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station in Pennsylvania within the required time. The second exercise involved sending equipment by air from the Phoenix response center to the Surry Power Station in Virginia within the required time.

The NRC staff watched to make sure the equipment can be successfully shipped and delivered. We also observed and evaluated the plants’ — and SAFER’s– communication and coordination throughout the exercises. The conclusions we’re drawing from these exercises will be one input in deciding whether the plants can meet the requirements of Phase 3 of the Mitigation Strategies Order. We’ll send the industry a letter reviewing the performance of the national response centers and SAFER this fall.

While the NRC regulates the individual nuclear power plants that would request and receive the equipment, SAFER is not an NRC licensee. Nevertheless the NRC’s regulatory role does extend to the National Response Centers. Since the centers are key to how plants meet the Mitigation Strategies Order, we’re certainly interested in their performance. To expedite the availability of these Centers to respond, the NRC is working in parallel to design our regulatory oversight approach. Whatever the exact mechanism, you can be sure that the key consideration will be protecting the public’s health and safety.

You can see our website’s Japan Lessons Learned section for more information about the mitigation strategy requirements and related guidance.

 

 

Natural Hazards Are Part of the Planning

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

 

Up to now the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season has been pretty calm, but the NRC always keeps an eye out for the strong weather-related events and other natural events the world can generate. We make sure both U.S. nuclear power plants and the agency are prepared for high winds, storm surge and a whole lot more.

Most recently, the seven reactors affected by 2012’s Superstorm Sandy remained safe. Other plants have safely withstood powerful storms, including Waterford 3 in Louisiana handling the effects of 2005’s Katrina and Turkey Point in Florida safely taking a direct hit from 1992’s Andrew.

Sandy may have left a mess in New York, but the nuclear reactors in its wake remained safe. Photo courtesy of FEMA

Sandy left a mess in New York, but the nuclear reactors in its wake remained safe. Photo courtesy of FEMA

Flooding can happen with or without storms, and U.S. plants are designed to and safely ride out significant events, such as when Fort Calhoun in Nebraska dealt with an overflowing Missouri River in 2011. Also in that year, Vermont Yankee remained safe as the Connecticut River valley suffered severe short-term floods from Hurricane Irene’s remnants.

Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident in March 2012 showed the world what flooding (in this case from a tsunami) can do to a reactor. The NRC’s learned several flooding-related lessons. from the accident. As a result of NRC direction, U.S. plants are using the latest software and technical know-how to re-analyze all flooding sources. This will help the NRC determine if the plants need to consider higher flooding water levels when establishing plans to stay safe. This effort has also examined existing flood protection and all plants have taken steps to confirm they can implement reliable flood safety plans. In the meantime, several plants have also chosen to enhance their flood protection.

An earthquake caused the tsunami that devastated Fukushima, and again U.S. plants are designed to stay safe in the face of quakes that affect their area. Virginia’s North Anna plant was hit by an August 2011 quake centered a short distance away. The earthquake was strong enough to be felt across the East Coast; it shook North Anna with a little more force than what the plant was originally designed to withstand. North Anna remained safe – multiple inspections showed the plant’s systems were undamaged. This was unsurprising, since plant systems are designed to withstand a combination of events that can exceed the forces generated by an earthquake alone.

As with flooding, the NRC has learned from Fukushima’s quake and other recent earthquakes, and we’re having every U.S. plant reanalyze earthquake hazards to see where enhancements might be needed. All the plants east of the Rockies have taken the first step in that process, and the other plants will do the same next March.

U.S. reactors are also designed for (and have safely survived) hazards such as tornadoes, droughts and other severe weather events. Even with all this preparation, Fukushima reminds us to prepare for the unexpected. The NRC’s approach here involves every U.S. reactor having additional portable systems to restore and maintain safety functions.

All of this work helps ensure the public stays safe when natural disasters strike that may impact U.S. nuclear power plants.

Like a Good Boy Scout, We’re Always Prepared

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

Because emergency preparedness is so important to the agency’s mission, the NRC has requirements to ensure nuclear power plant operators — and the NRC staff — are prepared to respond to events. And our rules require plants to have up-to-date emergency plans.

The NRC shares federal oversight of nuclear power plant emergency preparedness with FEMA. States have the overall authority for making protective action decisions for residents in the area, such as sheltering and evacuation, if there is an event at a plant. Local emergency responders also have an important role in protecting the public.

Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.

Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.

Plants must practice their emergency plans periodically to make sure plant staff is prepared to deal with a radiological emergency. Every other year, both the NRC and FEMA evaluate emergency response exercises at each operating plant, with both the state and local emergency responders participating.

NRC inspectors monitor the on-site response. They watch over the shoulders of operators and emergency responders to assure they’re correctly evaluating conditions, taking appropriate steps to deal with the reactor conditions and communicating well with off-site agencies, including the NRC. FEMA evaluates the efforts of state and local governments, and emergency responders.

The NRC staff must also be prepared to respond to an emergency. So several times a year, we participate in exercises, too. For example, the NRC’s region I recently participated in an emergency exercise for which we sent a site team to participate alongside plant emergency responders, and state and local emergency response agencies. We had staff in the various emergency facilities, including the simulator, the plant’s emergency operations facility, the joint news center and the state operations center. We also staffed our own incident response center in the Regional Office.

Participating in exercises gives us a chance to practice how we’d respond in an actual event. That means the NRC staff monitors and independently assesses reactor conditions, performs dose calculations, and reviews protective action recommendations. We also “issue” press releases, participate in mock news conferences, and interact with federal and state officials, and local emergency management agencies.

Afterwards, we take a look at what worked, and what didn’t go so well, and make changes to our procedures so that we’re continually improving.

We also learn from real events, like Hurricane Sandy, and put those lessons into place, so that the next time, we’re even better prepared.

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.

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