NRC Continues to Respond to Irma

Update (Sept. 12, 2017 4:15 p.m. EST):

Late Monday afternoon, Hurricane Irma had diminished to the point that the NRC exited monitoring mode and stopped staffing the Region II Incident Response Center in Atlanta. (The Operations Center at NRC headquarters in Maryland remains staffed 24/7 as usual.) Neither the Turkey Point nuclear plant nor the St. Lucie nuclear plant, both in Florida, lost offsite power during the storm, and both units at each plant are expected to be operating again this week. St. Lucie Unit 2 remained at full power throughout the storm, and Florida Power & Light tells the NRC it expects to restart St. Lucie Unit 1 today after local emergency management officials confirm they could implement their emergency plans for the plant. FPL has also indicated that it plans to restart both units at Turkey Point after emergency officials in South Florida provide the same assurances for the site. The NRC has returned to its normal inspection and oversight of Turkey Point, St. Lucie, and the other plants in the Southeast and will begin to evaluate lessons learned from Hurricane Irma in preparation for future storms that may affect nuclear plants.

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer, Region II

(Sept. 11, 2017): As Irma (now a tropical storm) continues to track through the southeast, the NRC continues to monitor its path and the nuclear power plants potentially along that route.

Turkey Point Unit 3, in south Florida, remains safely shut down, as it has been since Saturday. Operators at the Turkey Point plant shut down Unit 4 just before 7 p.m. Sunday evening due to a valve issue. The shutdown was uncomplicated, the plant is in a safe condition, and winds and rain have diminished at the site such that the plant staff exited their declaration of an unusual event at 4 a.m. Three NRC resident inspectors remain at the site, but the agency is now assessing steps to return to its normal inspection staffing within the next day or two.

At St. Lucie, also in Florida, operators are reducing power on Unit 1 due to salt buildup on insulators in the switchyard that supplies offsite power and plant employees are working to resolve this situation. St. Lucie Unit 2 remains at full power. Two NRC resident inspectors remain at the site, but it is expected that NRC will return to normal inspection staffing at this site, also within a day or two.

As of Monday morning, the Region II Incident Response Center staff is monitoring potential effects from the storm on the Hatch nuclear plant in south Georgia and the Farley nuclear plant in south Alabama. The two units at Hatch and the two units at Farley are currently at full power. Even though the staffs at both sites have completed storm preparations, it appears that projected winds will not be strong enough to affect plant operations at these two locations.

The NRC’s Region II continues to be in monitoring mode and the Incident Response Center in Atlanta is staffed. However, predicted wind and rain from the storm has prompted the closure of the Region II office as well as other federal agencies in the area.

Update: The NRC Readies for Hurricane Irma

UPDATE (9/10/2017 – 10 a.m. EST): The NRC activated the Region II Incident Response Center in Atlanta and entered the agency’s monitoring mode just after 6 p.m.yesterday. One unit at the Turkey Point plant is shutdown, but the other unit continues to operate because winds on site have been projected to not exceed hurricane strength. Florida Power & Light has told the NRC it currently has no plans to shut down the two units at the St. Lucie plant because projected wind speeds there are also expected to be below the hurricane level.

Latest Press Release: NRC Preparing for Hurricane Irma Sept. 8, 2017

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer, Region II

At least two nuclear power plants, Turkey Point and St. Lucie, are in the predicted path of Hurricane Irma. Both are preparing for the strong and potentially damaging storm – just as they have for past dangerous hurricanes.

Twenty-five years ago, Turkey Point was directly in the path of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, and although many of the plant’s structures were damaged and offsite power lines were lost, important safety equipment was safely maintained.

Florida Power & Light, the company that operates Turkey Point and St. Lucie, is working through a very detailed storm preparation procedure. That work includes checking equipment and supplies such as diesel generator fuel, securing or moving other equipment or items that might be blown around, and implementing a staffing plan to ensure enough operators and support staff are on site around the clock if roads become inaccessible.

Meanwhile, the NRC’s resident inspectors at the two sites are watching and ensuring company employees are following their procedures. The NRC’s Region II office in Atlanta has already dispatched two additional inspectors to Turkey Point and two others to St. Lucie so the resident inspectors assigned to those sites can take care of their homes and families.

As Hurricane Irma moves closer, the NRC will activate its Incident Response Center in Atlanta for around the clock staffing and begin ongoing communications with the plants and the NRC inspectors on site.

Procedures require both plants to be shut down prior to the onset of hurricane-force winds on site, and remain shut down until equipment has been checked and reliable offsite power lines are restored. The plants have diesel generators that can provide power to keep the plants in a safe condition for many days if offsite power is not available.

In addition, regional inspectors have been in contact with NRC license holders in Puerto Rico, Florida and other potentially affected states, which have responsibility for securing radioactive materials during the storm.

Hurricane Andrew and other natural events that have affected nuclear plants in past decades have provided the NRC with a wealth of experience in responding to conditions that can be expected during Hurricane Irma.

An Open Forum Now Available

The NRC welcomes comments on the topics we’re blogging about. But we realize there are other topics you might want to talk about. This post serves as the Open Forum section of the NRC Blog. You may post comments here on any topic relevant to the role and mission of the NRC. Comments here are still moderated and must adhere to the Comment Guidelines. If we determine a comment on another post is more appropriate here, we’ll move it over. This post will stay open for comments and not be subject to the 30-day comment period of other posts. You can always find this post by clicking on the Open Forum category on the side bar.

Holly Harrington
NRC Blog Moderator

Taking a Long-Term View on New Reactor Licenses

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Since 2012, the NRC has licensed 11 new reactors in the United States. The first four of those are under construction, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina.

The other seven? Their licenses are ready to go whenever the companies involved choose to start building them, and here’s why.

These new reactors are authorized through the NRC’s Combined License process. Under this approach the license includes permission to both build a reactor and operate it later, as long as a detailed list of completion requirements are met.

A Combined License includes the same 40-year operating period as the licenses for today’s reactors. Those 40 years start when the NRC concludes the reactor has been built according to its license and can operate safely. The construction portion, on the other hand, is set up without a definitive expiration date.

We base our permission to build the reactor on our review of technical and environmental information the applicant provided. Issuing a license means we found all that information acceptable.

Let’s imagine Company X receives a Combined License and waits 10 years before deciding to start construction. If the original information is still valid, the project could get underway. Most categories of information won’t change in that time. The license includes provisions where the company must account for new information when it decides to start construction.

All of this means that companies with a Combined License can therefore take additional time to consider those issues affecting the business decision to construct or not that fall outside the NRC’s jurisdiction. For example, a state’s utility agencies can create or revise policies on how the state obtains and pays for electricity. Changes in interest rates, prices for other electricity sources and even the makeup of regional electricity markets can affect the company’s overall business case.

Once a company concludes conditions are right for using a Combined License, the utility will give the NRC advance notice of its intent to start construction. The NRC will inspect construction activities and otherwise ensure the company meets relevant requirements for protecting the public.

Five Questions With Michael Weber

Michael Weber is the head of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

  1. How would you briefly describe your role at the NRC?

I lead NRC’s scientists, engineers and administrative professionals in confirming safety and security through research on nuclear power plants and uses of nuclear materials, including transportation and disposal. I also help develop our people, computer codes, standards, and experiments to meet our mission well into the future

  1. What is your foremost responsibility at work?

Keeping our people focused on the nuclear safety and security mission of the agency.

  1. What is your most significant challenge in the workplace

Competition for time and attention. There are many issues that compete for our attention from the urgent to the strategic. With our focus on nuclear safety and security, we seek balance in how we use our resources to accomplish our mission in a manner consistent with our vision as a trusted, independent, transparent and effective regulator.

  1. What do you consider one of your most notable accomplishments at the NRC?

Actually protecting the public and ensuring the security of nuclear facilities and material. It is what we do and why we regulate. Because our regulatory program is highly successful in protecting the public, it can be difficult to see the outcomes that we seek to achieve. However, occasionally when we are responding to real safety or security incidents, we glimpse the benefits of nuclear regulation where the actions that we take or the controls we require prevent theft of radioactive material, avoid significant radioactive contamination following a transportation accident, or reduce radiation doses to workers or members of the public.

  1. What is one quality of the NRC that more people should know?

How talented and dedicated NRC people are throughout the agency. I am honored to be part of such a team working daily to protect the nation and to strengthen nuclear and radiological safety and security around the world.

Five Questions is an occasional series in which we pose the same questions to different NRC staff members.

 

 

OIG Audit Looks at Security for Decommissioning Reactors

Brett M. Baker
Assistant Inspector General for Audits

An Office of the Inspector General audit of the NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors is now available here. The audit set out to determine whether NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures, systems and components.

oigThe NRC regulates the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, a process during which a plant is removed from service and the residual radioactivity is reduced to a level that permits release of the property and termination of its license. The NRC has rules governing power plant decommissioning that protect workers and the public during the process, and regulations for the management of worker fatigue.

The OIG found that the agency’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures, systems, and components. However, opportunities exist for program improvement.

The audit found that NRC regulations lack clarity on which elements of fitness-for-duty decommissioning licensees must implement. In addition, the NRC lacks regulatory requirements for a fatigue management program for decommissioning licensees.

The NRC is taking steps to address the issues. Presently, there are ongoing rulemaking efforts in the area of decommissioning. Additionally, the NRC recently finalized a report to document lessons learned associated with permanent power reactor shutdowns that occurred from 2013 – 2016.

The OIG audit report makes recommendations to clarify which fitness-for-duty elements licensees must implement to meet the requirements of the insider mitigation program; and to establish requirements for a fatigue management program.

NRC management stated their general agreement with the audit findings and recommendations.

NRC Inspectors: Free to Inspect

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

We often talk about having NRC Resident Inspectors at each commercial nuclear plant acting as the eyes and ears of the agency on site. It’s important to understand how they go about their business.

Paul Cataldo
Paul Cataldo

On a daily basis, resident inspectors are attending meetings, walking down equipment, monitoring major work activities, reviewing paperwork, and talking to control room operators and plant workers. When an event occurs at a plant, the resident inspectors are in the control room, watching how operators and the plant respond. They provide first-hand knowledge of what’s going on at a plant to regional management on an on-going basis. Inspectors often work business hours, but they’re required to work evenings, weekends and overnight hours, too.

NRC inspectors, including region-based specialists, have “unfettered access,” so they can go anywhere and watch any activity they choose. NRC regulations specify that NRC inspectors must have immediate unfettered access, although inspectors must comply with applicable access control measures for security, radiological protection and personal safety. That means if an inspector wants to enter a radiologically controlled area, he or she is allowed to, but first must follow the radiation protection requirements for the area.

“My job is to ensure the company is in compliance with our regulations and their operating license, which provides reasonable assurance that the plant is safe. One approach I use is the “trust but verify” method,” says Paul Cataldo, the NRC Senior Resident Inspector at Seabook Station in New Hampshire. “In essence, having access to any document, equipment or personnel on-site, without asking permission or the licensee having prior knowledge of a request, gives us confidence regarding the integrity of the information we use during our inspections.”

Plant workers are also prohibited from announcing that an NRC inspector is at the plant or in a particular area. It’s a violation of NRC requirements and over the years we have cited plants when workers tipped off their co-workers that inspectors were on-site.

We rely on our ability to perform announced and unannounced inspections to independently evaluate plant performance. Without unfettered access, our ability to carry out our mission could be impacted.