U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Category Archives: General

National Cyber Security Awareness Month – It’s For Everyone

Joan Rolf
Senior Cyber Security Coordinator
 

cybersecgraphicOctober is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and – before we head into November – it’s now a good time to remember the importance of cyber security. Cyber crime threatens our work, personal life, identity and privacy. Here at the NRC, we’re committed to protecting our internal digital assets and information, as well as ensuring that our regulated facilities’ critical digital systems of are well protected. This vigilance supports the NRC’s security and safety missions.

All NRC employees are required to complete annual training on computer security. Some of the concepts we teach our employees are useful for everyone:

  • Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized and secure by installing updates.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with your family, friends, and community about Internet safety.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online, and use privacy settings.
  • Be cautious about what you receive or read online; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The NRC ensures operating power reactor licensees and applicants seeking new licenses implement appropriate protections against cyber threats. Since 2009, the NRC has required each power plant to have a cyber security program in place to protect their computer and communications systems.

Over the last two years we have conducted more than 35 cyber security inspections and actively engaged licensees to ensure all identified issues are addressed. In the recently released “Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2014-2018,” we highlight the importance of cyber security guidance for nuclear power reactors, fuel cycle and spent fuel storage facilities, non-power reactors, decommissioned nuclear facilities, and materials licensees.

The NRC is developing a final rule, 10 CFR part 73.77, “Cyber Security Event Notifications,” which, if approved, will require timely notification of cyber security events. This rule is intended to improve the NRC’s ability to respond to cyber security-related plant events, enable the NRC to more effectively evaluate potential threats, and aid the NRC’s overall situational awareness.

reverse_cybersecgraphicIn our Cyber Security Directorate, part of the Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response, we continue to work with federal partners to protect the United States’ critical infrastructure. The NRC joins the Department of Homeland Security in its interagency and public-private efforts under the Sector Specific Agency Nuclear Sector. And we join with other government regulators on the newly-established Cyber Security Forum for Independent and Executive Branch Regulators, led by Chairman Allison Macfarlane. These partnerships strengthen our mutual knowledge base and provide agencies with an opportunity to share methods and approaches to enhance overall cyber security protection.

During Cyber Security Awareness Month, federal agencies are holding a variety of events to promote the conversation – among employees and the public – on this important topic. One of the most important things for our employees and our stakeholders to realize is the individual computer user is the first line of defense in cyber security.

NRC Employee Survey Shows Agency as a Top Performer

Miriam Cohen
Chief Human Capital Officer
 

Every year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management polls federal workers and asks how they feel about their jobs, their leaders and their work culture, among other things. And now the results of the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are in. How did the NRC do?

We’re happy to say the NRC remains as a top performer. NRC employees gave high marks to the agency in such categories as:

  • Quality of Hire Q21 – My work unit is able to recruit people with the right skills. (22.5 percent above the government average)
  • Resource Sufficiency Q9 – I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done. (21.9 percent above the government average)
  • High-Quality Recognition Q31 – Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services. (19.3 percent above the government average)

Answers Marked on TestThe NRC also remains above the government-wide average in all categories — with the largest increases over last year in favorable responses centering on training and our ability to recruit the right people with the right skills.   

We saw an increase this past year in pay and job satisfaction along with significant progress in the area of talent management, which generally means everything done to recruit, retain, develop, and reward employees. Leadership and Knowledge Management dropped a single percentage point. The rest of our scores either stayed the same or improved.

This is the second survey in which OPM scored agencies in diversity and inclusion, which includes questions that measure characteristics of an agency that improve diversity and inclusion, such as being fair, open, cooperative, supportive and empowering. The so-called “IQ Index” for the NRC increased slightly from last year and remains well above the government benchmark.

The Employee ViewPoint Survey is anonymous, web-based, and offered to all permanent NRC employees. This year, 68 percent of NRC employees completed the survey (about 2,467 respondents out of 3,624). 

Obtaining employee input and taking action based on this input is a key a component of our agency’s continuous improvement efforts and a major reason why we have a highly engaged workforce. As we have done in the past, the agency will analyze the survey results and identify focus areas. We believe that as a result of our collective efforts the NRC remains a great place to work. 

We’ve posted our results on the agency website.

NRC Science 101: How a Nuclear Reactor Generates Electricity

Paul Rebstock
Senior Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer
 

science_101_squeakychalkHow does a nuclear reactor generate electricity? Well — it doesn’t, really. Let’s begin at the end and see how it all fits together.

We begin by looking at an electric motor. A motor consists primarily of two major components: a stator, which stands still, and a rotor, which rotates within the stator. When electricity is applied to the motor, electromagnets within the stator and the rotor push and pull on each other in a way that causes the rotor to rotate. The magnets in the stator pull magnets in the rotor toward them, and then, as the rotor magnets pass by reverse themselves and push the rotor magnets away.

The parts are arranged so the pulling and pushing are all in the same direction, so the rotor spins inside the stator. The electrical energy applied to the motor results in mechanical energy in the rotor.

But that same machine can be used in reverse: If some outside force causes the rotor to spin, the interaction of the magnets causes electricity to be produced: the “motor” is now a “generator,” producing electrical energy as a result of the mechanical energy applied to its rotor. That’s the most common way to make large quantities of electricity.

So how do you make the rotor spin? That’s where the nuclear reactor comes in, although still indirectly. Recall that a nuclear reactor generates heat. The fuel rods get hot because of the nuclear reaction. That heat is used to boil water, and the steam from that boiling water is used to spin the rotor. As we have seen, when the rotor spins, electricity comes out of the stator.

When water boils, the steam that is produced occupies much more physical space than the water that produced it. So if you pump water through some sort of a heat source — like a nuclear reactor, or a coal‑fired boiler — that is hot enough to boil the water, the exiting steam will be travelling much faster than the water going in. That steam runs through a machine called a turbine, which acts something like a highly‑sophisticated windmill. The physical structure is vastly different from a windmill, and a large turbine can be far more powerful than any windmill that has ever been made, but the effect is somewhat the same: the steam, or wind, causes part of the machine to spin, and that spinning part can be connected to a generator to produce electricity.

The steam leaving the turbine is collected in a device called a condenser — essentially a metal box the size of a house, with thousands of pipes running through it. Cool water flows through the pipes, and the steam from the turbine is cooled and condenses back into water. Then the water is pumped back through the heater and the cycle continues.

Now, back to the nuclear reactor . . . We have seen how the reactor generates heat, and we have seen how heat is used to generate steam and how the steam then powers the turbine, which spins the generator that produces electricity. The final piece in the puzzle is how the heat from the nuclear reaction generates the steam.

bwrThe fuel rods are suspended in a water bath contained in a large metal container somewhat like a gigantic pressure cooker. A typical “reactor vessel” might be 15 feet in diameter and 20 feet high, and some are much larger than that. In some types of reactors, the water is allowed to boil, and the heat generated in the fuel rods is carried away in steam. These are called “boiling water reactors” (or “BWR”).

In others, the water is held at a very high pressure — on the order of 2000 pounds per square inch. (By the way, that is more than 60 times the pressure in the tires of a typical car.) In that situation, the water cannot expand and cannot boil. The water in that type of reactor carries the heat away while remaining liquid, and that heat is then transferred to another water system where the boiling occurs. This transfer takes place in a device aptly named a “steam generator.”

These are called “pressurized water reactors” (or “PWR”). A small PWR might have two steam generators. A large one might have four. Some have three. The steam from all of the steam generators is typically combined into a single “main steam line” that carries the steam to the turbine, so the reactor and all of the steam generators act together as a single steam source.

The water from the condenser is pumped directly into the reactor vessel for a BWR, or into the steam generators for a PWR.

So there you have it: the nuclear reaction heats the fuel, the fuel heats the water to make steam, the steam spins the turbine, the turbine turns the generator, and the generator makes electricity.

The author has a BS in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University.

The NRC Commission Has Held 5,000 Meetings—Give or Take

Annette Vietti-Cook
Secretary of the Commission

 

After one of our commissioners noted a milestone in July – the 5,000th meeting of the NRC’s Commission – we thought it might be useful to share what the Secretary of the Commission does behind-the-scenes in planning Commission meetings. There is much more planning than you might think.

The NRC Commissioners conduct a public meeting. Annette Vietti-Cook is on the left.

The NRC Commissioners conduct a public meeting. Annette Vietti-Cook is on the left.

First some background. The “Commission,” in NRC-speak, means the presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed Commissioners acting together. At full-strength there are five Commissioners. The Commission sets policy for the NRC, develops regulations on nuclear reactor and nuclear materials safety, issues orders to licensees and adjudicates legal matters.

The federal Sunshine Act requires that any time the Commissioners meet to conduct agency business, the meeting must be public. Exceptions to this requirement are made when the Commission discusses matters such as security or confidential legal, personnel, personal or proprietary information. Our regulations lay out how we will meet the Sunshine Act requirements.

Public Commission meetings are held at NRC headquarters in the Commissioners’ Conference Room, with planning starting months in advance. This is where the staff members in the NRC’s Office of the Secretary (we call it SECY) come into play.

To prepare for the meeting, SECY works with NRC staff to plan agendas for proposed public meetings, including lists of potential internal and external contributors, which are intended to provide the Commission with a range of perspectives.

In the weeks ahead of a meeting, the NRC staff and other presenters send background materials and slides to the Commissioners. This advance information allows the Commissioners to come prepared to get their questions answered. Meanwhile about a half-dozen people in SECY are making sure of the details— arranging parking and pre-registration for external participants, getting relevant information posted on our public website, creating a seating chart for those who will brief the Commission.

As meeting day approaches, SECY ensures other logistics are in order. They make sure the room is set up properly, with name tags, microphones, and water pitchers placed on the conference table, chairs arranged, flags properly positioned. On meeting day, these preparations probably won’t be noticed by the 50-60 people who may come to the meeting and the untold number tuning into the webcast. (Incidentally, the room holds 155). The Chairman opens the meeting and turns the meeting over to the presenters. Following, the presentations, the Commissioners have an opportunity to ask questions.

Even after the meeting ends, SECY has more to do. All public Commission meetings are webcast, recorded and transcribed. The transcript must be validated and posted to the NRC website. The webcast is archived. And following most every meeting, SECY develops a memo to give the staff direction (we call this an SRM, or staff requirements memorandum), which must be approved by the Commission.

So you see, a lot of work goes into organizing the 5,000 or so Commission meetings we’ve held since the inception of the NRC almost 40 years ago – not just in my office. We hope you’ll tune in or attend a Commission meeting in the future. You can find the Commission’s meeting schedule here and a complete schedule of NRC public meetings here.

Throwback Thursday — The First Regulatory Information Conference

Crowd ImageThe NRC’s first Regulatory Information Conference was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. on April 18-20, 1989. It began as a small conference (some 500 attendees at the first one) on nuclear safety regulation. Today, it is a large public meeting with more than 3,000 attendees from some two dozen nations. In 2015, it will be held at the Bethesda North Marriot Hotel and Conference Center in North Bethesda, Md., from March 10 through 12th. Registration will open early in 2015.

Now for our history question: Which Executive Director for Operations made introductory comments at that first RIC?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,495 other followers

%d bloggers like this: