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NRC & Your Community – The Video

Ivonne Couret
Public Affairs Officer

Every work day, 3,000+ of your friends, neighbors, relatives and community members head to their jobs at the NRC. They’re headed to one of four regional offices, our large headquarters site, our teaching facility in Tennessee or are stationed at one of the nearly 100 nuclear power plants around the country. They’re managers, technical staff, nuclear experts, lawyers, librarians, inspectors, accountants and more.

NRC & your community logo_clrThis “people” perspective is often lost in larger conversations about rulemaking, concerns about radiation, and the risks and benefits of nuclear power. But the NRC is much more than a large regulatory body. It’s an organization made up of people who care – people just like you.

So a class of the next generation of NRC leaders – called the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program – decided to make a video focusing on the people behind the NRC seal, and how they help support society as a whole and the communities in which they – and you – live.

So, please take a few minutes to watch the video. We’ll also be presenting this at public meetings, making it available to schools and community groups, and augmenting it with other materials as part of a broader information campaign.

Throwback Thursday — The First Swearing-In

hpfirstswearinginThe first NRC Commissioners were sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 23, 1975. In addition to the NRC Commissioners, the photo includes Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and what other high-ranking dignitary?

Western U.S. Reactors are Completing Their Seismic Picture

Lauren Gibson
Project Manager
Japan Lessons-Learned Division

An ongoing lesson from 2011’s Fukushima Dai-ichi accident involves U.S. reactors better understanding their earthquake hazard. Reactor owners in the Western parts of the country have had to assemble a particularly complex jigsaw puzzle of seismic information. They’ve just sent the NRC their detailed re-analysis.

seismicgraphicThe graphic shows the three pieces of information U.S. reactor owners have used to analyze their specific hazard:

  • Where quakes are generated (seismic source)
  • How the country’s overall geology transmits quake energy, (ground motion/attenuation) and
  • How an individual site’s geology can affect quake energy before it hits the reactor building (site amplification).

Central and Eastern U.S. reactors benefitted from region-wide updated earthquake source information and a model of quake energy transmission for the first two pieces. Plants west of the Rockies, however, had to deal with the West’s more active and interconnected faults.

Columbia, Diablo Canyon Part I and Part II and Palo Verde used the Senior Seismic Hazard Analysis Committee (SSHAC) approach to develop site-specific source models and ground-motion models. This group of independent seismic experts develops guidance on major seismic studies such as this. The group has met several times the past few years to ensure the Western plants properly conduct and document their seismic activities.

The NRC carefully considers SSHAC comments and recommendations before the agency comes to its own conclusions on seismic issues. We’re currently evaluating the Western plants’ reports and will issue our short-term screening and prioritization review later this spring.

As for the Central and Eastern U.S. plants’ March 2014 submittals, we screened them to determine what other actions the plants might have to take. Plants that have more to do were grouped into three priority groups with staggered deadlines. Many of those plants submitted additional analyses in December 2014, and the NRC continues reviewing both that information and the March 2014 submittals.

Dry Cask Storage – The Basics

Michele Sampson
Chief, Spent Fuel Licensing Branch
Division of Spent Fuel Management

Fuel pellets, rods, and casks_r9You may have read our recent Science 101 posts in which we explained the basics of nuclear fuel and what happens when it is taken out of the reactor. We mentioned storing it in a pool, something every reactor in this country does immediately after removing the fuel. Today we want to talk about the option of storing spent nuclear fuel in dry casks.

Pools can only hold so much spent fuel. As they began filling up, utilities started looking for other ways to manage their fuel. A handful of companies developed dry storage systems. The idea is that after the fuel spends some time cooling in the pool, it can be loaded into a cask that is sealed to keep the radioactive material inside and protected.

At its most basic, a dry storage system is a cylinder that is lowered into the pool and filled with spent fuel. When full, the cylinder is raised and dried before it is sealed and placed outdoors. There are many varieties of spent fuel storage casks. All storage casks need to manage the spent fuel’s heat and contain its radioactivity, and to prevent nuclear fission (the chain reaction that allows a reactor to produce heat). The casks must resist earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, temperature extremes and other scenarios.

Casks come in different sizes. They are tall enough to hold spent fuel, which can be 14 feet long, and they can weigh up to 150 tons—as much as 50 midsize cars. In fact, plants may need a special crane that can handle heavy loads to be able to lift a loaded cask full of water out of their pool for drying. After the casks are dried and filled with helium, robotic equipment welds them closed to keep doses to workers as low as possible. Then the canisters are tested to ensure they are sealed.

And once the dry, welded canister is placed inside thick shielding, the plants use a special transporter to move the cask outdoors to where it will be stored. At that point, the radioactivity from the cask must be less than 25 millirem per year at the site boundary. That means the highest dose to someone standing at the fence for a full year would be about what you would get going around the world in an airplane. The actual dose at the site boundary is typically much lower. As of December 2014, just over 2,000 casks have been loaded and are safely storing nearly 84,000 spent fuel assemblies.

Cask designers must show their cask systems meet our regulatory requirements. The NRC staff reviews their applications in detail. We only issue an approval to systems that we know can perform safely.

Most dry storage systems in use today have the spent fuel placed into an inner metal canister that is welded shut, then placed into a large metal or metal-and-concrete cask. The canisters are designed so they can be removed and put into transportation casks for eventual shipment offsite. Some casks store the fuel horizontally, the others vertically.

drystoragegraphic)The NRC inspects the design, manufacturing and use of dry casks. These inspections ensure licensees and vendors are following safety and security requirements and meeting the terms of their licenses and quality assurance programs. NRC inspectors also observe practice runs before utilities begin moving their spent fuel into dry casks.

There are strict security requirements in place to protect the stored fuel. Security has multiple layers, including the ability to detect and respond to an intrusion. There have been no known or suspected attempts to sabotage cask storage facilities.

Since the first casks were loaded in 1986, dry storage has released no radiation that affected the public or contaminated the environment. Tests on spent fuel and cask components after years in dry storage confirm that the systems are providing safe storage.

The NRC also analyzed the risks from loading and storing spent fuel in dry casks. That study found the potential health risks are very, very small. To ensure continued safe dry storage of spent fuel, the NRC is further studying how the fuel and storage systems perform over time. The NRC is also staying on top of related research planned by the Department of Energy and nuclear industry.

We’ll talk about “high burnup spent fuel,” which is receiving a lot of attention at shutdown reactor sites, in an upcoming blog post.

 

Spreading the Sunshine!

Stu Reiter
Co-Chair Open Government Advisory Group

Given the terrible winter much of the U.S. has been experiencing, you may be excited to learn that next week is “Sunshine Week.” But before you break out the beach towels, you should know that the week actually celebrates the public’s right to know its government’s business. In fact, this year marks the initiative’s 10th anniversary.

sunshineSunshine Week was launched by the American Society of News Editors in March 2005. This non-partisan, non-profit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.

We thought it an excellent time to highlight the NRC’s actions to be open and transparent about its business. The NRC has a long history of commitment to openness and transparency and encouraging stakeholder and public engagement. Most recently, we’ve used Web streaming and conferencing technologies to enhance public participation in our public meetings, regardless of stakeholder location. And our web-based systems make it easier to share public meeting information before and after, and for the public to provide feedback on these meetings.

And, we have embraced President Obama’s Open Government efforts to make the federal government even more open and accountable and to increase citizen participation, collaboration, and transparency in government.

In January, 2009 the President instructed OMB to issue an Open Government Directive. To comply with the directive, each agency was required to develop and publish an Open Government Plan (updated every two years) describing how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities. NRC’s most recent plan can be found here. Examples of commitments highlighted in our plan include:

  • Reducing the average FOIA request processing time and backlog.
  • Enhancing availability and delivery of official agency information throughout the public Website.
  • Making it easier for mobile users to find/access regulatory information.
  • Continued use of Social Media to share information with the public – launching Facebook.
  • Promoting the objective of clear communications, the use of plain language.
  • Increasing the transparency of our rulemaking activities.

President Obama then went further, and in September 2010, he challenged members of the United Nations General Assembly to work together to make all governments more open and accountable to their people. To meet that challenge, in July 2011, President Obama joined the leaders of seven other nations in announcing the launch of the Open Government Partnership – a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance. Now, some 60 nations participate, affecting more than 2 billion people around the world.

As an organization, the NRC is dedicated to continuous improvement. We will continue to focus on what is important to our stakeholders and public — FOIA responsiveness, maintaining our public Web site as the agency’s central information portal and providing a mobile‑friendly Web site, growing our social media programs and modernizing our records management program.

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