U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Category Archives: Operating Reactors

When A Strike is a Possibility at a Plant

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Unionized workers at the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in Oswego, N.Y. recently voted to accept a new contract days before the current pact was to expire. The union representing operations, maintenance and radiation protection staff and Entergy, the company that owns the plant, reached a new four-year agreement.

While it was good news to learn an agreement had been reached, the agency had been tracking the status of the negotiations all along and was prepared to oversee that the unit would be operated safely during any job action.

We have procedures to make sure the owner is taking all of the appropriate steps to ensure continued safe operation in the event of a strike. For example, as a contract expiration is drawing near, the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to the site and specialist inspectors from the Regional Office in King of Prussia, Pa., review the company’s contingency plans for staffing and other actions to prepare for a strike.

We don’t get involved in contract negotiations. We ensure that the requirements of the facility’s license and technical specifications are maintained at all times. At FitzPatrick and other plants facing an impending contract expiration, NRC inspectors ensure all emergency plan positions are properly staffed and that qualified licensed operators operate the plant. They also review the qualifications of replacement workers to verify they were properly trained to step in.

In the event of a strike at any plant, the NRC Resident Inspectors would be supplemented by additional NRC inspectors to provide round-the-clock NRC inspection coverage for the first 48 hours. We’d have continued additional site coverage for at least the first two weeks. If need be, we could continue enhanced inspector coverage for as long as necessary.

NRC Carefully Assessed Issues Associated with New Pipeline at Indian Point

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Mention nuclear power plant and new natural gas pipeline in the same breath and it may not be surprising if some ears perk up.

inptSuch was the case with a plan by Spectra Energy to install a 42-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline that would cross a portion of the Indian Point nuclear power plant site, in Buchanan, N.Y. One of the most salient questions to arise has been whether a rupture of the pipeline could adversely impact the safety or shutdown of the two operating reactors at the site.

The NRC’s conclusion, based on a thorough peer-reviewed analysis, is no.

First, however, it’s important to understand the limitations on the NRC in this complex interstate project. The agency’s role is restricted to ensuring the safe operations of the Indian Point facility; we cannot usurp the roles and responsibilities of other federal, state and local government agencies.

Other agencies involved in the proposed pipeline expansion include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is the lead agency for evaluating applications to construct and operate interstate natural gas pipeline facilities; the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the Department of Energy; and the Environmental Protection Agency. There are also many state and local government agencies that have separate responsibilities.

Indian Point has for decades had two natural gas pipelines – one 26 inches in diameter and the other 30 inches– running through the property. The Algonquin Gas Transmission Co., a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, built the 26-inch line in 1952 and the adjacent 30-inch line in 1965. Operating licenses were granted to Indian Point Units 1, 2 and 3, in 1962, 1973 and 1975, respectively. The new line would be installed across a more southerly section. (Plans also call for the 26-inch line to be removed from active use at the time the new line begins operating.)

The 42-inch line would not be located within the plant’s Protected Area – the highly secure section where the reactor buildings, spent fuel pools and other key structures are located. Instead, it would traverse the site about a quarter-mile from the Unit 2 and 3 reactors.

There will also be special precautions to enhance the safety of the piping that will be located closest to Indian Point to further limit the already very low potential for a gas pipeline rupture. For one, the steel pipe will have a wall thickness of almost three-quarters of an inch and will buried at least 4 feet deep, under engineered backfill. The line will have additional corrosion protection and all of its welds will be carefully examined.

Reinforced-concrete protective mats will also be placed over the section of the pipeline closest to Indian Point, providing additional physical protection. Warning markings will drive home the message that excavation in that area is a bad idea. Accidental ruptures during excavation work are one of the most frequent causes of pipeline failure.

Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., the plant’s owner/operator, was required under NRC regulations to perform a site hazards analysis to evaluate how plant operations could be impacted by a rupture of the pipeline. The company determined the plant could safely shut down and, more broadly, that the pipeline would not pose an undue risk in terms of the facility’s safe operation.

inptThe NRC did not accept this analysis at face value. The agency conducted an independent confirmatory analysis. This evaluation, which assumed a complete rupture of the pipeline, concluded the plant could either continue to safely operate or temporarily shut down.

In addition, NRC inspectors performed visual assessments of the proposed pipeline routing to confirm assumptions used in Entergy’s analysis report. They also reviewed the qualifications of the contractor who carried out the company’s analysis and that Entergy’s acceptance of the report was consistent with its quality assurance program standards.

A discussion of the NRC’s inspection and analysis can be found in an inspection report issued on Nov. 7, 2014. In it, the NRC staff states that “the staff determined Entergy had appropriately concluded that the proposed pipeline does not introduce significant additional risk to safety-related structures, systems and components at Indian Point Units 2 and 3, and therefore the change in the design bases external hazards analysis associated with the proposed pipeline does not require prior NRC review and approval.”

After consideration of all of this information, the NRC determined the two Indian Point reactors could safely operate or shut down if a rupture were to occur on any portion of the proposed pipeline where it would traverse Entergy’s property. The NRC shared these findings with FERC. That agency approved Spectra Energy’s proposal to build the expanded pipeline on March 3, 2015, and authorized construction in the vicinity of Indian Point on Sept. 24, 2015.







Writing Rules on Lessons Learned From Fukushima

Timothy Reed
Project Manager
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

The NRC is moving forward in making permanent some of the lessons we’ve learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The Commission has directed the staff to seek public comments on a draft proposed rule for mitigating “beyond-design-basis events,” which can be stronger than a plant’s design anticipates.

The Commission made a few changes to the proposed rule, which consolidates several of the most safety significant recommendations of the NRC’s task force report from shortly after the events at Fukushima.

One of the Commission’s changes involves Severe Accident Management Guidelines, or SAMGs, which a plant would use in responding to very unlikely accidents. The Commission directed that the plants will continue implementing those guidelines voluntarily. Each plant will document a commitment to keep their SAMGs up to date and integrate SAMGs with other emergency response guidelines.  The NRC will provide periodic oversight of SAMGs through its Reactor Oversight Process. Another Commission change to the proposed rule removes proposed design requirements for new reactor applicants. Instead, the new reactors would be subject to the same performance-based criteria that applies to the currently-licensed fleet.

The proposed rule would apply the requirements of two existing orders, Mitigation Strategies (EA-12-049) and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation (EA-12-051), to any operating or future U.S. nuclear power plant. The Mitigation Strategies Order ensures that if a plant loses power, it will have sufficient procedures, strategies, and equipment to indefinitely cool the reactor core and spent fuel, as well as protect the reactor’s containment. The Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation Order requires the plants to ensure they can monitor spent fuel pool water levels. These two orders are already being implemented across the nuclear fleet.

The proposed rule addresses other task force recommendations by:

  • Establishing standards that ensure plants smoothly transition between different emergency procedures, keeping the plants’ overall strategies coherent and comprehensive;
  • Enhancing emergency response requirements so sites can address events involving more than one reactor or a reactor and spent fuel pool;
  • Requiring training, drills and exercises on the new capabilities;
  • Improving onsite and offsite communication, and
  • Ensuring sites have enough staff to address a multi-reactor event

The rule also incorporates information from the plants’ reevaluated earthquake and flooding hazards. Each plant’s mitigation strategies used to meet the rule’s requirements must remain available in the face of the reevaluated hazards.

The staff expects to provide a proposed final rule to the Commission in December 2016.  The NRC staff expects the rule, if approved, would be effective approximately two years later, with the exact date varying from plant to plant. Although that may seem far away, keep in mind much of the rule is already required by the two orders. Nearly all U.S. plants will comply with those orders by the end of 2016. Safety is being enhanced well before the final rule.

The public can comment on the draft proposed rule until Feb. 11, 2016. To view the proposed rule or submit comments, go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRC-2-14-0240. You may also e-mail comments to Rulemaking.Comments@nrc.gov. The staff is also planning a public meeting during the comment period, and we’ll post the meeting notice on our public website. We look forward to hearing from you. (Just a note, comments to this blog post are not considered official NRC communication. Please use the other methods above if you wish your comments to be formally considered.)

Browns Ferry: A New Milestone in Nuclear Plant Fire Protection

Barry Miller
Senior Project Manager, Fire Protection Branch

The NRC recently marked a milestone with the transition of the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant to the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard 805 (NFPA 805). The license amendment, issued October 28, is significant because it marks 23 reactors at 15 plants to have completed the transition since 2010. It is symbolically important because a fire at Browns Ferry in March of 1975 prompted the NRC and the industry to focus on fire safety at nuclear power plants.

Fire Protection infographic_r13The Browns Ferry fire started when a worker used a candle to test airflow around a temporary penetration seal in the cable spreading room. The flame ignited the temporary seal material, and the fire spread to the reactor building where it burned many of the cables in systems required to safely shut down the plant.

Although plant operators were able to shut the plant down safely, the event led the NRC to promulgate prescriptive fire safety requirements (10 CFR Part 50, Appendix R). For example, plants were to ensure there was at least 20 feet of separation between trains of redundant safety systems. However, this requirement was impractical for some plants that had already been built, so in many cases licensees had to find an alternative means of achieving an equivalent level of safety.

“The fire at Browns Ferry in 1975 was a turning point for the nuclear industry,” said Bill Dean, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “It put a spotlight on the risk fires can pose to nuclear safety. Many safety improvements have been made industry-wide since that time, but the adoption of NFPA 805 represents perhaps the most significant undertaking in fire safety since the institution of Appendix R. This transition means Browns Ferry has performed a full re-analysis of the fire risk at its three reactors and identified the most efficient and effective means to protect its most fire-sensitive areas.”

The NFPA 805 is a performance-based means of using advanced fire analysis tools to assess the risk of fire at various areas of a nuclear power plant. That way, a plant’s fire protection scheme can be customized to focus on the most risk-significant areas and to protect the reactor’s safety systems.

Using the NFPA 805 standard is optional. Newer plants constructed after 1975 were typically built to the prescriptive requirements. So they may opt to remain under those requirements, contained in 10 CFR 50.48 and still be in compliance with the agency’s fire protection regulations. Although NFPA 805 offers certain advantages from a risk-informed perspective, both methods provide reasonable assurance that a plant would be able to cope with a serious fire.

The following plants have now completed the transition to the NFPA 805 fire protection standard: Shearon Harris; Oconee 1, 2 & 3; D.C. Cook 1&2; Duane Arnold; Callaway; Fort Calhoun; V.C. Summer; Cooper; Nine Mile Point 1; Turkey Point 3 & 4; Farley 1 & 2; Brunswick 1 & 2; Palisades; Arkansas Nuclear One Unit 2; and Browns Ferry 1, 2 & 3.

Preparing for Subsequent License Renewal

Albert Wong
Division of License Renewal
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

The NRC’s operating licenses for commercial nuclear power reactors are valid for 40 years and may be renewed for an additional 20 years at a time.  So far the agency has renewed 78 licenses and has applications for another 16 under review. We received the first license renewal application in April 1998, and we’re expecting to receive the last application for a first renewal sometime after 2020.

Today, Dominion Virginia Power announced that it expects to submit a subsequent license renewal application in 2019 – a renewal beyond the 60 years of operation from the first license and the initial renewal — for Surry Power Station.

Subsequent renewal applications will be reviewed under the same regulations (10 CFR Part 54) as the initial renewals. That means they will get similar scrutiny for both safety (focusing on how the plant operators manage the effects of aging on certain plant components) and environmental impacts. There will also be opportunities for public input and hearings.

Of course, operating plants beyond 60 years may raise different technical issues for us to address in these reviews. So we are drawing on our experience with the initial license renewals, plant operating experience, ongoing research, and expert opinions to identify strategies for dealing with the challenges of extending operation to 80 years. Two draft guidance documents will be published in December 2015 for public comment. They are “Generic Aging Lessons Learned for Subsequent License Renewal Report” and the “Standard Review Plan for Review of Subsequent License Renewal Applications for Nuclear Power Plants.”

The final guidance documents – including responses to public comments and explanations of any changes from the drafts – will be published in time to support our review of subsequent license renewal application.

Plant operators applying for subsequent license renewal will need a detailed technical basis, along with associated research and “aging management programs,” to demonstrate how they will keep their plants operating safely during the additional 20 years. The NRC staff will give these applications the same thorough reviews we give initial renewals. We expect the reviews will take about two years, though the quality of the applications could affect the schedule.

The NRC is proactively preparing for anticipated subsequent license renewal applications and stands ready to ensure the continued safety of operating plants once applications are received.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,750 other followers

%d bloggers like this: