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Category Archives: Operating Reactors

NRC — Ready for the 2015 Hurricane Season UPDATED

Update: Due to Hurricane Bill, the South Texas Project nuclear power plant, located near Bay City, Texas, has started tropical storm/hurricane procedures. Actions taken include performing a plant walkdown to secure and tie down anything that could be become a projectile missile or flying debris. The plant operator has implemented restrictions for employees to stay inside if winds get above 40 mph. Today, winds are projected to be sustained at 50 mph with gusts up to 60 mph. Both units are at full power unless winds reach speeds above 75 mph, but that is not expected at this time. They have additional staff onsite and supplies (cots, food, water). The resident inspectors are not evacuating and an additional group of NRC inspectors has been on site and will remain so to back up the residents if need be. (At this time the hurricane is not expected to affect River Bend or Waterford nuclear power plants, but the NRC’s Region IV will continue to monitor the projected path.)

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II

The hurricane season officially began June 1, but this year the Carolina coast experienced a tropical storm named Ana in early May. While Ana produced winds of more than 60 miles an hour near the Brunswick nuclear plant, there was no major damage. It did, however, serve as an early reminder of the NRC’s role in ensuring nuclear plants remain safe during damaging winds and storm surges.

A hurricane as seen by satellite. Be assured, it's not happening now.

A hurricane as seen by satellite. Be assured, it’s not a current photo and is NOT happening now.

The NRC has years of experience with hurricanes and other severe storms. Nuclear facilities were affected by Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992, by Katrina in Louisiana in 2005, by Sandy along the East Coast in 2012 and by many others. Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts fewer storms this year than the historical average, any storm can be dangerous.

How does the NRC oversee the safety of nuclear plants and other facilities during these storms?

The NRC staff monitors tropical storms as they form, and if the projected path is towards the coast, the agency’s regional offices begin continuous tracking. If a storm’s path shows the possibility of it affecting a nuclear plant or other NRC-licensed facility, the NRC collects more information on the storm and NRC resident inspectors check the plant’s preparations. Depending on the projections, additional NRC inspectors may be dispatched to some nuclear plants.

Around 12 hours before predicted hurricane-force winds, nuclear facilities that may be in the path provide the NRC updates and NRC inspectors monitor the plant staff’s actions. Plant procedures require the plant operators to shut the reactor down if winds greater than a certain speed are expected on the plant site.

Nuclear plants are built to withstand all expected local meteorological events, including hurricanes, and actual storms have shown that plants can safely shut down and with little or no damage to important safety equipment.

The NRC stays in contact with plants and NRC inspectors on site as the storm passes over, and the agency has backup systems if regular communications channels are lost.

Once the storm is over, the NRC and FEMA assess damage and make sure local emergency response organizations can resume their normal roles. If the plant shut down, it will only be restarted after the NRC is satisfied there is no damage to safety equipment and emergency response capabilities have been restored.

Fortunately, most tropical storms and hurricanes do not adversely affect nuclear plants, but the NRC is ready in case one does.

A Focus on NRC Annual Assessment Meetings

Prema Chandrathil
Public Affairs Officer
Region III

formal meetingIt’s Spring – and annual assessment meetings are popping up all over. The NRC holds these important meetings every year for every nuclear power plant to provide information about how the plant performed in the previous year.

What happens at these meetings? If you attend, you can expect to hear about NRC inspection activities, how the plant performed from a safety perspective, and how it met NRC requirements, including if there were any violations and, if so, what actions were taken to correct those issues. You would also hear directly from NRC resident inspectors, who are at the plant on a daily basis and know the plant inside and out. They and other specialists inspect the plant to help ensure protection of the public health and safety.

We just posted a short YouTube Video on the subject today. “Three Minutes with an NRC Expert on the Annual Assessment Meetings” can be found here.
community outreachAs the video underscores, annual assessment meetings are not all the same. There are different types, including a formal meeting, an open house and community outreach event. The most common meeting is a formal meeting where the public is invited to observe the interactions between the NRC and plant staff. Open houses are informal and are designed to encourage one-on-one conversations. An example of a community outreach event is where the NRC would staff a booth at a local event in an effort to talk to more folks. The type of meeting will vary depending on the plant’s performance, community feedback and local interest.

No matter the format of the meeting, the public will have an opportunity to not only hear about the plant’s performance and NRC inspection efforts but also ask questions, make comments and talk to the NRC staff.

A common misconception is that these meetings are transcribed — they are not. The basis for the NRC’s discussion is the annual assessment letters issued by the NRC to individual plants. These letters are documented and publically available. You can find them on the NRC website.

3 minutes with AA_1The NRC continues to reach out in an effort to inform people about what the agency does, how we regulate and how a particular plant is doing in meeting NRC rules and regulations. We are committed to protecting public health and safety, and strive to be open and responsive in these annual assessment meetings.

If you are interested in any upcoming public meeting you can check out the public meeting schedule and review the meeting notice as well as the press release.

We hope you’ll check out the video to learn more.

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.

Indian Point Transformer Fire

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

NRC inspectors are following up on a transformer fire at Indian Point Energy Center over the weekend. The NRC Resident Inspectors for Indian Point – who work at the plant on a daily basis – are monitoring activities at the site while plant workers are troubleshooting and looking for the cause of the fire on the Unit 3 main transformer.

The transformer fire happened at about 6 p.m. on Saturday night. A sprinkler system initially extinguished the flames, but it reignited and was put out by the onsite fire brigade and local fire departments. The fire caused the reactor to automatically shut down, as designed. All safety systems worked as designed. There was no danger to the public and no release of radiation. The reactor is stable. Unit 2 continues to operate at full power.

Plant operators declared an “unusual event” – the lowest of the emergency classifications – in accordance with plant procedures. All plants have procedures, approved by the NRC, that dictate how events are classified to ensure appropriate steps are taken to respond to the event and to communicate the event to local and state agencies and the NRC.

In addition to cooling provided by fans, the main transformer is also cooled by oil flowing through it. On Saturday, oil from the transformer spilled into the plant’s discharge canal. Entergy has been working to determine how much oil was spilled.

The transformer that failed carries electricity from the main generator to the electrical grid. The same type of equipment can be found at any plant that generates electricity. It is on the electrical generation side of the plant – not the nuclear side.

As far as next steps go, plant employees will determine what happened and why. They will repair or replace any equipment that was damaged in the fire. The plant can restart when ready. NRC inspectors will be monitoring Entergy’s actions every step of the way, ensuring workers are taking all appropriate actions.

As we do with any event at a plant, we’ll continue to review what happened and how the plant responded. If need be, we’ll send additional inspectors to the site to look further into the event and its effects.

Plenty of Progress to Report on Fukushima-related Enhancements

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

fukushimaThe NRC’s technical staff, industry executives and a public interest group will brief the Commissioners Thursday on the agency’s efforts to implement what we’ve learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The bottom line is the NRC is ahead of schedule on several fronts.

Some of the best news involves U.S. reactors meeting requirements from two of the NRC’s Fukushima-related Orders issued in March 2012. By the end of this spring, almost a quarter of the U.S. fleet will comply with the Mitigation Strategies and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation Orders. We expect more than half the fleet will meet those Orders by the end of December, which is a full year before the Orders’ deadline.

Every U.S. reactor will comply with the instrumentation requirements by the December 2016 deadline. Every reactor will also comply by that time with a major Mitigation Strategies requirement – additional, well-protected onsite portable equipment to support key safety measures if an extreme event disables a plant’s installed systems. The U.S. industry has already set up two response centers with even more equipment that can be transported to any U.S. reactor within 24 hours. By the time we say good-bye to 2016, almost every reactor will also have made all modifications needed to use those portable systems. In preparing to meet the deadlines, U.S. reactors have already enhanced their ability to keep the public safe.

About a dozen plants will have made all those modifications except changes closely related to the third Order, which requires Hardened Vents for reactors with designs similar to those at Fukushima. These vents would safely relieve pressure in an emergency and help other systems pump cooling water into the core. All the reactors subject to the Order have completed plans for the first set of vent enhancements or installation of new vents.

The NRC staff finished reviewing these plans earlier this month, ahead of schedule, and issued written evaluations to each plant. The agency is also about ready to issue guidance on how these plants can meet the second part of the Order, which involves an additional vent or other methods to protect the structure surrounding the reactor.

The staff’s presentation will also cover topics including revising the NRC’s rules in these areas, as well as the ongoing effort to re-evaluate flooding hazards for all U.S. nuclear power plants. The NRC’s regional offices will provide their perspective on the overall implementation effort’s progress.

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