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Lining Up New Protections with New Flood Info

Lauren K. Gibson
Project Manager
Japan Lessons Learned Division

Walkdowns (3)The NRC is moving forward on connecting two important lessons we learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan: protecting key safety functions and reevaluating flood hazards. The agency’s ongoing work would require U.S. nuclear power plants to ensure their protection strategies account for updated flood levels.

The Commission has approved the staff’s plan for completing the reevaluated flooding hazards review. The staff’s plan also covers how U.S. plants must account for the new hazards in their mitigation strategies for beyond-design-basis events. The plan requires U.S. plants to determine which flood hazard data could affect their strategies. We believe this approach is the quickest way to provide the most significant flood protection improvements.

The NRC assesses plants’ re-evaluated flood hazards to see whether the re-evaluated hazards were properly calculated. Plants need these assessments to evaluate their strategies against the re-evaluated hazard. We’re still reviewing some plants’ work; we’re issuing interim letters so those plants know how to follow the rest of the staff’s plan.

The plants examine whether their strategies work under the new hazard conditions and make any appropriate adjustments. For example, a strategy might require a pump in a location submerged by the new possible flood level. The plant would then consider options such as relocating the pump. These assessments and adjustments would be substantially complete by 2016.

The second part of completing the flooding hazard work involves either a focused evaluation or a broader integrated assessment of the plant’s protection capabilities. The specific work depends on:

  1. Which hazards, if any, cause flood levels higher than the plant’s original level.
  2. Whether the plant’s flood protections have available physical margin. (For example, if the new flood hazard level is six feet and a plant’s existing wall is seven feet tall, the wall has available physical margin to handle the new flood level.)
  3. Whether the higher flooding levels disable the plant’s ability to cool the reactor core or spent fuel pool, or protect containment.

If the local intense precipitation hazard is the only cause of a higher level, then the plant performs a focused evaluation. If other flooding hazards are involved, but the plant has available physical margin and can maintain safety functions, then the plant only needs a focused evaluation. The focused evaluation would identify any physical or procedure changes needed to address the new flood level. We would review and inspect these changes to ensure they resolve the issue.

The remaining plants would perform an integrated assessment, looking at all flooding hazards and identifying any changes needed to protect the plant from the new hazard. We’ll review these assessments and decide if voluntary plant actions would be effective or if the NRC must order plant changes.

You can find out more information about Recommendation 2.1—Flooding on the Japan Lessons Learned portion of the NRC website.

UPDATE: Reducing Proliferation Risks AND Treating the Sick

Steve Lynch
Project Manager
Research and Test Reactor Licensing Branch

The United States does not produce a medical isotope used domestically in millions of diagnostic procedures each year. We’re talking about technicium-99m, or Tc‑99m — which has been called the world’s most important medical isotope.

Tc-99m is created from another radioisotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which, in some cases, is produced  using highly enriched uranium. A supply shortage that delayed patient treatments several years ago, coupled with the desire to reduce proliferation risks, prompted the world community to find better ways of securing the future supply of this isotope.

In 2012, Congress passed the American Medical Isotope Production Act to support private U.S. efforts to develop non-HEU methods for medical isotope production and begin phasing out the export of HEU. The National Nuclear Security Administration has been promoting domestic Mo‑99 production using different technologies through formal cooperative agreements with commercial partners.

These partners and several other companies have said they are interested in producing Mo‑99 in the U.S. They have proposed using several different technologies, ranging from non-power reactors to accelerator-driven, subcritical solution tanks. To support the transition to new technologies, the NRC is prepared to receive and review applications for construction permits, operating licenses, and materials licenses for new facilities, as well as license amendments for existing non-power reactors.

In fact, we are now reviewing two construction permit applications and a license amendment request. We licensed a small-scale technology demonstration project earlier this year.

Companies, facilities, and technicians involved in producing and administering Tc-99m to patients may also need to be licensed by either the NRC or an Agreement State. (There are 37 Agreement States, which have formal agreements with the NRC allowing them to regulate certain nuclear materials, including medical isotopes.)

For more information on the role of the NRC and other agencies in regulating the use and production of medical isotopes and other nuclear materials, visit the NRC webpage.

Kara Mattioli also contributed to this post.

This is an update to the original blog post, which originally ran in October 2013

Updating Nuclear Materials Transportation Regulations

Michele Sampson
Chief, Spent Fuel Licensing Branch

The idea of transporting nuclear materials can make people nervous. It’s easy to imagine worst-case accidents on the highway or involving a train. But stringent safety requirements, as well as coordination among federal agencies, international regulators, and state and local officials, help to ensure these shipments are made safely. This structure provides many layers of safety.

10cfrtwopartjpgFrom time to time, the requirements are updated to address new information. The International Atomic Energy Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation recently updated their requirements. The NRC just amended ours to reflect those updates, as well as to make some changes we felt were needed based on recent experience. You can read the Federal Register notice on the final rule, published June 12.

While the rules are revised periodically, the fact remains that nuclear materials are transported safely all the time. By far the majority of shipments involve small quantities of nuclear materials. Millions of these shipments are made each year and arrive at their destination without incident. Smaller shipments must be made in compliance with DOT regulations for shipping hazardous materials. The greater the potential risk of the contents, the more stringent DOT’s packaging requirements are. The DOT regulations limit how much radioactivity can be transported in each package. That way, no transport accident involving these small shipments would pose a serious health threat.

But what about larger amounts of radioactive materials? What about spent nuclear fuel?

In addition to having to meet DOT requirements, more radioactive cargo such as spent fuel must meet NRC regulations for nuclear materials packaging and transport in 10 CFR Part 71. These regulations include very detailed requirements for shipping under normal conditions, as well as stringent tests to show the packages can withstand severe accidents. These are the regulations we just finished updating.

If you would like to learn more about the transportation of spent fuel and radioactive materials, see our backgrounder.

Enhancing NRC Public Meetings

Lance Rakovan
Senior Communications Specialist

pubmeetingIPThe NRC holds a lot of public meetings – more than 1,000 a year. Sometimes we seem to hit the mark with stakeholders. Sometimes not so much. In any event, we are always looking to make our meetings better. I recently co-chaired a group of NRC staff members who were tasked with providing the agency’s Executive Director for Operations (EDO) with a list of recommendations to make our public meetings better.

We took a comprehensive look at the NRC’s public meeting policies, processes, and guidance, including their implementation, and made recommendations to improve those aspects of our work. The group provided its report to the EDO earlier this year (ML15029A456).

Who was part of the group? The group’s members included representatives of the two offices that conduct by far the most NRC public meetings (the offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and New Reactors); members from all four NRC regions, including a public affairs officer; and many others. The task group members brought to the table extensive public meeting experience.

The task group considered additional public input provided through sources such as:

  • Years’ worth of feedback received through the NRC’s Public Meeting Feedback Form;
  • The results of extensive public outreach- and meeting-related interviews and surveys involving the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station; and
  • Input received during previous public meetings addressing public involvement.

This information was instrumental in the task group’s work and informed decisions the group made.

Now that the report is done, what are the next steps? NRC staff members are currently creating and revising our policies and guidance, including our policy statement on public meetings. Our intent is to engage the public by sharing draft products for comment and holding a public meeting once some of the improvements recommended by the task group have been made.

We hope that you will participate in those activities and continue to provide your input through the Public Meeting Feedback Form (fill out a hard copy at a meeting or provide your input electronically by clicking on “meeting feedback form” for meetings on the public meeting schedule) as well as through discussions with NRC staff. Our goal is to provide the public with useful information on our activities and to conduct business in an open manner, while at the same time ensuring that we can carry out our mission.

As the agency takes action on the recommendations, we’ll update you via the blog on proposed improvements, progress we’re making, and how the public can be involved with initiatives.

 

 

 

 

Working Together — The Southern Exposure 2015 Exercise

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II

NRC officials participate in an exercise at the headquarters Op Center. The Op Center will be active during the upcoming Southern Exposure 2015 exercise.

NRC officials participate in an exercise at the headquarters Operations Center. The Operations Center will be active with officials participating during the upcoming Southern Exposure 2015 exercise.

Every year, NRC managers and staff members in headquarters and the agency’s four regions participate in nuclear power plant emergency exercises. The plants are required to exercise their plans every other year, and NRC response team members use these exercises to keep their skills sharp and to identify areas for improvement. The exercises provide valuable experience and make each plant’s overall emergency response program better.

State and local responders and the plant staff have a crucial role in each of those exercises, but many federal agencies that would be involved in an actual serious nuclear emergency rarely participate.

In a little more than a week, the NRC, along with state and local officials in South Carolina, Duke Energy, FEMA and the Department of Energy, will stage a full-scale exercise at the Robinson nuclear plant in South Carolina. It’s being called Southern Exposure 2015. This exercise will bring together not only the usual exercise participants, but also many other agencies that would have a role in a real event.

In addition to the NRC, FEMA and DOE, federal agencies participating include the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor, the Interior, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Southern Exposure 2015 will begin on Tuesday, July 21, with activities much like the exercises the NRC regularly sees. On Wednesday, July 22, the NRC will be joined by those other federal agencies in a broad response to the simulated events at the Robinson plant. The NRC and the other federal agencies will work closely with state and local officials and Duke Energy’s plant operators and managers to achieve the objectives of the exercise.

Victor McCree, the Regional Administrator for Region II, will serve as the NRC’s Site Team Director for Southern Exposure 2015, leading the NRC team in South Carolina. The NRC will also support the exercise with staff in the regional office in Atlanta and headquarters in Rockville, Md.

While McCree has participated in countless exercises, he acknowledges this one is unique. It’s a rare opportunity, he said, to work with so many organizations across federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector.

People living and traveling near the Robinson plant during the exercise may hear and see actions associated with the simulated response. These could include response vehicles, field monitoring teams and low-flying aircraft, but the exercise should not affect normal traffic or other activities in the area.

While the likelihood of a severe nuclear accident in this country is low, the Southern Exposure 2015 exercise is designed to allow all the organizations involved, federal, state and local, to address the simulated accident’s effects on the economy, environment and public health – and be better prepared to respond if the events were real.

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