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Category Archives: Operating Reactors

Get NRC Correspondence on Operating Nuclear Power Plants by Email

Christine Steger
NRR Communications Analyst
 

refresh leafNo need to wait for the mailman anymore. You can quickly and easily receive documents about any operating nuclear power plant you wish electronically.

This distribution process makes it much easier for anyone—licensees, local and state government, members of the public — to quickly get the information they desire.

To sign up, go to the Operating Reactor Correspondence page on the NRC website. The webpage is arranged by region and includes maps that indicate where each plant is located, allowing you to easily find the reactors that are of interest to you. The site also allows you to subscribe and unsubscribe from plant distribution lists at any time.

By signing up, you will receive all outgoing operating reactor correspondence originating from Headquarters, Region I, III, and IV. (Region II is currently unavailable) Correspondence includes, but is not limited to, license amendments, relief requests, exemptions, requests for additional information and public meeting summaries.

Not only is the process faster and easier, but it saves resources, too. In 2010, about 15,000 subscribers received electronic information – avoiding the production of over 5.7 million printed pages.

Refresh is an occasional series where we re-run previous posts. This post originally ran on  April 26, 2011.

 

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.

Looking For Better Ways to Determine Severe Weather Hazards

Thomas Nicholson
Senior Technical Advisor
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

 

The NRC staff evaluates flood hazards when we review applications for new nuclear facility sites. In addition, we re-examine flooding at operating nuclear power plants — a result of what we learned from the 2011 tsunami flooding at Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan. These evaluations cover a range of flood events including extreme storms that produce intense local rainfall. The NRC works with other federal agencies to better understand events caused by severe weather as we develop ways to better evaluate possible flooding issues at these sites.

weatherBefore the Fukushima event, the NRC staff informed the Federal Subcommittee on Hydrology of the urgent need to update the National Weather Service’s reports for estimating extreme rainfall events. We use these reports as the basis for our flood design and protection studies. As a result, the subcommittee formed a task force and later the Extreme Storm Events Work Group. The work group is looking at the best practices being used to study extreme storms, and developing estimation procedures and guidance.

The Extreme Storm Events Work Group has an impressive membership. In addition to the NRC, it includes the National Weather Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The work group meets monthly to talk about ongoing activities and products federal agencies are developing to help monitor, model and publish rainfall estimates.

Based in large part on the group’s work, we held a three-day workshop last year on probabilistic flood hazard assessment. The workshop brought together more than 250 international experts and included presentations and panel discussions on extreme rainfall events, coastal storm surge flooding, river flooding, tidal waves, flood-induced dam and levee failures, and combined flood events.

More recently, the work group held a workshop at the National Weather Service to define needed extreme storm products for the nation. These products will greatly assist the federal agencies that are moving towards a risk-informed approach for assessing flooding hazards. NRC staff members are benefiting greatly by their interactions with their federal counterparts in the work group.

Nuclear power plants are built to withstand local extreme weather, but we are always learning how safety margins can be improved even more. By working with weather experts in other federal agencies, we can build on what they’re doing and our nuclear power plants will benefit from this collaboration. We can’t stop flooding from happening, but we can make sure the facilities we regulate are prepared to deal with it safely.

Failed Bolts Bedevil a Nuclear Plant

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

 

Truly novel issues are, generally speaking, few and far between at U.S. nuclear power plants. Whether it’s a specific type of pipe that springs a leak or an electrical relay that goes on the fritz, chances are good that the problem has been experienced before somewhere across the nation’s fleet of commercial power reactors during the many decades they have been in operation.

An issue that has drawn attention at the Salem Unit 2 nuclear power plant, a pressurized-water reactor in southern New Jersey, has to do with the failure of small bolts contained in four reactor coolant pumps. The bolts, measuring 1 inch in diameter and 4 inches in length, are used to secure a turning vane inside the pumps.

These pumps stand about 30 feet tall and provide forced flow of coolant, or water, through the reactor to transport heat from the fuel to the steam generators. The steam generators, in turn, make use of that heat by converting it to steam. The steam is then piped to the turbine to spin it and generate electricity.

Salem Bolt imageAs can be seen in the graphic, water is drawn upward through the suction nozzle at the bottom of the pump via an impeller. The turning vane directly above the impeller then redirects the water toward an opening on the side, from which it flows into the reactor vessel.

When a refueling and maintenance outage began at the plant this spring and evaluation and maintenance work got under way, a number of turning vane boltheads were found in piping associated with one of the reactor coolant pumps and in the reactor vessel. (Similar discovery of these boltheads, albeit just a handful of them, had been observed in two prior outages.) Subsequent reviews, which have now included the examination of all of the pumps, have identified dozens of failed or sheared turning vane bolts in all of them.

Each pump has 20 such bolts. (The arrow shows the approximate location of the bolts.) A majority of the failed boltheads, though separated from the bolt shanks, remained in place thanks to mechanical restraints or tack welds.

While this is not a significant safety concern in terms of potentially causing a reactor core damage accident, there are several related operational issues. For one, the boltheads are considered foreign material that could have an adverse impact on reactor coolant system performance if they were to impact key components inside the system. For another, the turning vane could conceivably drop down and come into contact with the impeller and impede or halt its functioning.

The cause of the bolts’ failure remains under review, but one possibility is stress-corrosion cracking. Indeed, the NRC issued Information Notices to the industry in the 1990s regarding this phenomenon.

A 1994 Information Notice put out by the agency was designed to make the industry aware of stress-corrosion cracking that caused turning vane cap screws to fail at the Millstone Unit 3 nuclear power plant. Also, a 1990 Information Notice discussed the failure of turning vane bolts at a foreign reactor.

In a 1995 Information Notice, the NRC made plant owners aware of the loss of integrity for bolt-locking devices in the turning vanes of reactor coolant pumps at the Seabrook nuclear power plant but for a different reason: flow-induced vibrations.

PSEG, the owner and operator of the Salem and Hope Creek plants, will have to not only repair the Salem Unit 2 pumps but evaluate what went wrong. For now, the plant remains out of service while this work is taking place. NRC inspectors and specialists will closely follow these activities.

One area for consideration will be whether the problem could have been avoided based on previously available information.

The NRC Makes a Determination After Last Year’s Crane Collapse

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

 

Last year, the Arkansas Nuclear One facility experienced a tragic incident when a crane collapsed. One person was killed, eight were injured and important plant equipment was damaged. The NRC has now issued two “yellow” inspection findings as a result. The “yellow” means we found substantial safety significance related to the incident.

arkansasWorkers were moving a massive component out of the plant’s turbine building when the incident occurred. Unit 1 was in a refueling outage at the time, with all of the fuel still in the reactor vessel. At the time, Entergy Operations declared a Notice of Unusual Event, the lowest of four emergency classifications used by the NRC, because the crane collapse caused a small explosion inside electrical cabinets. The damaged equipment caused a loss of off-site power. The NRC’s senior resident inspector had driven to the plant to personally survey the damage and monitor the licensee’s response from the plant’s control room.

Here’s why NRC decided the incident had substantial safety significance even though both plants were safely shut down and there was no radiological release or danger to the public: Emergency diesel generators were relied upon for six days to supply power to heat removal systems.

The falling turbine component damaged electrical cables needed to route power from an alternate AC power source to key plant systems at both units. This condition increased risk to the plant because alternate means of providing electrical power to key safety-related systems was not available using installed plant equipment in the event the diesels failed.

Unit 2, which was operating at full power, automatically shut down when a reactor coolant pump tripped due to vibrations caused when the heavy component fell and hit the turbine building floor. Unit 2 never completely lost offsite power, and there was a way to provide it with emergency power using the diesel generators.

The NRC conducted an Augmented Team Inspection. We prepared a detailed chronology of the event, evaluated the licensee actions in response, and assessed what may have contributed to the incident. (Worker safety issues are the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which conducted an independent inspection of the incident.)

The NRC determined that the lifting assembly collapse was a result of the licensee’s failure to adequately review the assembly design and to do an appropriate load test.

We held a public meeting in Russellville, Ark., on May 9, 2013, to discuss the team’s initial findings. From its follow-up inspections, the NRC issued a preliminary red finding to Unit 1 and a preliminary yellow finding to Unit 2. These are documented in a March 24 inspection report.

NRC held a regulatory conference with Entergy officials on May 1, and after considering information provided by the licensee determined that “yellow” findings were appropriate to characterize the risk significance of the event for both Unit 1 and 2. The NRC will determine the right level of agency oversight for the facility and notify Entergy officials of the decision in a separate letter.

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