U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Plainly Telling the Public about Our Environmental Reviews

Tomeka Terry, Project Manager
Office of New Reactors

The NRC feels it’s important to write our documents so that all readers can understand them. We’ve previously discussed writing in plain English and acronym use. The agency’s made extra effort to write plainly in its documents most read by the public, and to reduce the use of acronyms when we can.

We use many tools to inform the public about who we are and what we do. Our work is technical and some documents must meet legal standards, but we still want people to understand as much as possible. So we went a step further—creating a new tool to improve understanding and reduce reading effort.

Environmental impact statements help the NRC decide whether to approve projects, such as licensing the building and operating of a nuclear power plant. Each environmental impact statement for a new reactor will now include a “Reader’s Guide” with a simple, short overview of the statement. The Reader’s Guide summarizes the project’s potential environmental impacts. It also describes alternatives and ways to reduce the effects the project would have on the environment.

We’ve also included an overview of the NRC’s new reactor licensing process and opportunities for public participation in the Reader’s Guide.

The brochure format makes understanding the environmental impact statement easier. Most NRC environmental impact statements average 1500 pages, while the Reader’s Guide gives an overview in about 40 pages.

The Reader’s Guide also helps us conserve resources. When we send our documents to the public, we can now print a short document and include the full environmental impact statement on an enclosed CD.

Two recent Reader’s Guides cover a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed new reactor in Pennsylvania and a final environmental impact statement for a site in New Jersey.

Update: As the Blizzard Moves Out of the Mid-Atlantic

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

UPDATE: As an update to the downpower and then shutdown of Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, the plant has restarted and once again began sending power to the electrical grid as of about 1:30 a.m. today (Jan. 26). The plant was returned to service after the main transformer cable that had become disconnected, apparently as a result of blizzard-driven winds, was fixed. That issue led to the plant reduction in power during the storm. Repairs were also made to address condenser tube leakage that was identified and led to a decision to shut down the plant on Monday morning. NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant tracked the repair work and the unit’s restart.

As of Sunday afternoon, only one nuclear power plant in Region I may have been directly impacted by the blizzard. (Region I covers the Northeastern U.S.)

Power output at Calvert Cliffs Unit 1, in southern Maryland, was reduced to just under 15 percent on Saturday evening after an electrical cable associated with a main transformer was found to be disconnected. It was not immediately clear if the storm was responsible for the cable coming loose. The downpower was needed to facilitate repairs.

While upstate New York was expected to be spared much of the intensity of the winter storm, the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant was shut down by its operators at about 10:40 p.m. Saturday after icing impacted the facility’s flow of cooling water drawn from Lake Ontario. Power had already been reduced to about 50 percent at the Scriba, N.Y., plant due to lowering water intake levels at the time of the manual scram (shutdown).

The plant was safely shut down and the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector for FitzPatrick traveled to the site to independently verify plant conditions and observe operator actions. The single-unit boiling-water reactor remained out of service as of this morning as troubleshooting and follow-up activities continued.

After the Pilgrim nuclear power plant experienced several winter storm-related shutdowns in recent years, the plant’s owner, Entergy, was prepared to conduct a pre-emptive shutdown of the facility should certain severe weather conditions occur. The NRC has been closely monitoring any effects of the blizzard on the Plymouth, Mass., site and has confirmed that there have been no significant impacts at the facility and certainly none that would have triggered the pre-emptive shutdown criteria.

On a similar note, the NRC has kept close tabs on the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, in Lacey Township, N.J. During Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012, water levels on the canal from which the plant draws cooling water reached levels that caused the declaration of an “Unusual Event” – the lowest level of emergency classification used by the NRC – and later an “Alert” – the next rung up on the emergency classification ladder. The water levels did not reach those levels during this storm and therefore no emergency declarations were necessary.

NRC Geared Up for Potent Winter Wallop

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

What a difference a month makes. As of late December, many East Coast residents were savoring record warmth and a winter which, until that point at least, had been largely devoid of a certain four-letter word (snow), as well as ice.

Fueled by a potent El Nino – a warming of Pacific Ocean waters that occurs every several years – the season was marked more by bustling golf courses and joggers wearing shorts than an abundance of the white stuff.

But now a sizable storm that has piggy-backed on the jet stream is taking aim at the East and promises to deliver what could be a significant winter wallop accompanied by large snow accumulations and strong winds in many areas. As is always the case, the NRC is ready to keep a close watch on nuclear power plants that potentially could be impacted by the storm.

Plant personnel have checklists of specific tasks to be performed when a significant storm – no matter whether a blizzard or a hurricane – is approaching.

For instance, there will be “walkdowns,” or surveys, of plant grounds to ensure there are no objects or debris that could get whipped into the air by strong winds and cause damage to any structures, power lines or the switchyard.

Another activity is to check that tanks that supply fuel to emergency diesel generators are filled. If the flow of power from the grid to the plant is disrupted for any reason, these generators will activate and provide power to key safety systems until the normal electricity alignment can be restored.

There needs to be sufficient fuel on hand in case the generators are needed for any extended period of time.

Also, plant operators must prepare for the possibility of flooding. One way to do this is to follow each site’s procedures, which can involve checking that flood-protection doors are properly secured, putting sandbags in place, stationing portable pumps or other actions.

NRC Resident Inspectors will be monitoring the completion of these activities using their own inspection procedure while also tracking the storm’s track and expected conditions at each site.

All indications are that this storm – dubbed Jonas by the Weather Channel – is one to take seriously. The NRC is prepared to do just that.

For information on how NRC HQ prepares, see this post.

COOP – Not Where Chickens Roost

John Biddison
Senior Emergency Response Coordinator

While the weather’s been quite mild on the East Coast so far this winter, that might change by the end of the week, according to weather forecasts.

NRC Icy frontPeople who’ve lived around Washington, D.C., for a while likely recall 2010’s back-to-back blizzard “Snowmageddon” that limited the city’s ability to function. The NRC, along with the other federal agencies headquartered near Washington, is ready to keep working in situations even worse than that.

How? We use COOP.

In “government speak,” COOP means Continuity of Operations – how the federal government keeps working even if potential weather or other severe events in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area disrupt the normal operations of a federal government agency.

The NRC tests its detailed COOP plan periodically. This includes participating in an annual federal COOP exercise, which takes many months to plan and several days to carry out.

Under the NRC COOP plan, NRC staff finds alternate places and ways to continue their work – this might mean staff members telework or physically relocate to alternate work stations. Staff in other locations can also take on new or different responsibilities. Certain vital mission functions that absolutely must continue are pre-identified. Other less critical functions might be temporarily suspended.

The NRC is revising and improving its plan based on new information, such as input from the last national exercise. For instance, we are updating information technology plans, enhancing decision-making, and providing our staff with additional guidance. We also recently enhanced our emergency communications with our staff and the public.

Planning for COOP is one of the most important things the federal government and the NRC does. It’s planning we all hope never to have to use, but it’s vital to have during unexpected events or emergencies.

Throwback Thursday — The Sample in the Cigar Box

The first sample of Plutonum-239, first created in 1940 by a team led by Dr. Glenn Seaborg. This photo shows the sample in a cigar box where Seaborg stored it and discovered its fission properties in March 1941. Courtesy of The Creative Services Office, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“Back in the day,” people stashed all kinds of treasures in cigar boxes, including family photos, or used them as handy storage bins for sewing supplies or loose change. This cigar box was used for a different purpose. It held the first sample of Plutonium-239, first created in 1940 by a team led by Dr. Glenn Seaborg. Seaborg stored the sample in this box, after discovering its fission properties in March 1941.

Courtesy of the Creative Services Office, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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