U.S. Nuclear Plants are Designed for Severe Natural Hazards

We’ve gotten some questions about how U.S. nuclear power plants would fare when faced with severe natural hazards. To answer: NRC’s rigorous safety regulations ensure that U.S. nuclear facilities are designed to withstand tsunamis, earthquakes and other hazards. In addition to those plants in recognized earthquake zones, the NRC has been working with several agencies to assess recent seismic research for the central and eastern part of the country. That work continues to indicate U.S. plants will remain safe.

For more information on U.S. nuclear power plants and earthquakes, read our backgrounder on the subject here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/fs-seismic-issues.html

Eliot Brenner
Public Affairs Director

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

22 thoughts on “U.S. Nuclear Plants are Designed for Severe Natural Hazards”

  1. Sooner, rather then later, I believe that were all going to face that those human beings who “Sacrifice” their lives to prevent a Nuclear Meltdown are going to say ” What’s the use in preventing such a disaster to begin with when we continue to let this happen” !

    So called 3 letter agency’s and Technical Wiz Kids who claimed to be EXPERTS, are just that, EXPERTS in nothing except Greed and Corruption ! The same types who say Nuclear Energy is Clean and Safe are the same ones WHO don’t work in those plants and make far more then the sacrificial lambs who operate them.

  2. To achieve optimum safety, nuclear plants in the western world operate using a ‘defence-in-depth’ approach, with multiple safety systems supplementing the natural features of the reactor core. Key aspects of the approach are:

    * high-quality design & construction,
    * equipment which prevents operational disturbances or human failures and errors developing into problems,
    * comprehensive monitoring and regular testing to detect equipment or operator failures,
    * redundant and diverse systems to control damage to the fuel and prevent significant radioactive releases,
    * provision to confine the effects of severe fuel damage (or any other problem) to the plant itself.

  3. I understand that there are 23 reactors like the Japan plant that have same design that failed. These have the reactor pools unprotected above ground level, not to mention some in earthquake prone areas.
    Due to the failure of the Japan Fukushima Daiichi plant nuclear reactors because of power & pumping failure backup systems, I propose the following for all of America’s existing reactors:

    A mobile generating power supply with accompanying fuel trucks & mobile pump system each on large flatbed trucks ready to deploy at any nuclear site within 24 hours for all existing plants in the U.S.
    This could provide emergency short term cooling and prevent the catastrophic release of radiation as we have seen in Japan.

    Watching the slow motion, on the fly, last ditch effort to control a meltdown is unbelievable. We have the technical ability and know how now to prevent this here (or anywhere in the world). This should never have happened. The NRC and federal, state and local officials should demand full backup protection of all our nations reactors which would include an emergency mobile backup power and pumping system.

  4. The Chairman’s, the Commssioners’, and the EDO;s response is too weak.
    They all knew about extended damage mitigation since 2007. WANO leaders should resign too, because all signatories to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty should have prepared for this by developing assets, ready to deploy.

    They all need to immediately resign and get someone who actually worked at a plant with a license in charge.

  5. Thank you so much for the speedy action in adding delicious to the list, and allowing members of the public to share information from your blog with others more easily.

    Now if delicious could only be added to your main site, it would make it possible for me to share this

    Click to access 11-050.pdf

    with others as well…

    Thank you.

  6. A few of us, nuclear engineers were, are fighting for lifetime for the consideration of real processes in the reactor severe accidents.

    As I formulated in a comment to US NRC: Consideration of the zirconium-steam reaction and the ignition and intense firestorm in nuclear reactor fuel rods is well overdue. Reevaluating the evidence provided by the TMI-2 reactor accident, Chernobyl-4 reactor accident, and Paks Unit 2 fuel washing incident, with consideration of this intense fiery process, will bring us closer to an ultimately safe nuclear power plant design.

    Click to access ML103340250.pdf

    Also, I called two years ago for a review: If the hydrogen which is generated in the reactor core from the reaction of the steam (coolant) with the zirconium alloy (or other low neutron absorbing metal cladding and other fuel bundle elements) explodes inside the building surrounding the reactor, this detonation still will not cause a break of the pressure boundary of the containment.
    Thirty years after the TMI-2 accident and 23 years after the Chernobyl disaster, I feel obligated to formulate this guideline in order to protect the public from further irradiation from the use of nuclear power. The Chernobyl type reactors (RBMK), which are still operating, have to be shut down immediately because they do not satisfy this guideline. Other nuclear reactors operating and future designs shall be reviewed for compliance to this key requirement and the result of such review shall be defining for their future.

    Returning to the comment to US NRC http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1033/ML103340250.pdf : „It is a much overdue duty of NRC and IAEA to evaluate the evidence provided by the TMI-2 accident, Chernobyl-4 accident, Paks-2 incident, and related experiments. Evaluating this evidence, one can see that the ignition of the zirconium fire in the steam occurs at a local temperature of the fuel cladding of around 1000-1200’C, [[and that a self-feeding with steam due to the precipitation of eroded fuel pellets and zirconia reaction product from the hydrogen stream into the water pool, causes intense evaporation.]]
    There are insignificant differences in the progression of the firestorms that occurred in the TMI-2 reactor severe accident, Paks washing vessel incident, and Chernobyl-4 reactor accident; the later defined only by the amount of zirconium available for the reaction. At the mean time, there are significant similarities in the processes leading to the ignition of the firestorm. In all three of the compared cases, it took several hours of ill-fated actions or in-actions of the operators to cause the ignition condition. Also, there are similarities in the end result of the firestorm; namely, that the extent of the fuel damage is much less than it was predicted from any other severe fuel damage causing scenarios, introduced for explanations. Therefore the fraction of released fission products is significantly less than was anticipated from the fuel melting or a so called “steam explosion” scenario. Also, the fiery steam-zirconium reaction results in a much higher than anticipated (from any other scenarios) rate of Hydrogen production, which in turn requires a review of containment designs.”

    I hope You will find useful this information for the background of the Fukushima Daiichi plant recent events.

  7. Excuse me Mr. Moderator, but your answer leaves me and others in doubt as to what is the real function of the NRC to begin with !

    You state that the NRC does not have regulatory authority nor responsibility for power plants outside the United States , I find that hard to believe , since your agency has sent teams of so-called experts to JAPAN for what ? What exactly is the team’s mission ? To Point fingers and place blame !

    If you really want to have the public see you doing your assigned job, START building the NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS in areas of Low-Probability of Mother Nature’s intervention, NOT in EARTH QUAKE FAULT AREAS !!!!

  8. The International Atomic Energy Agency is “the world´s center of cooperation in the nuclear field. It was set up as the world´s ‘Atoms for Peace’ organization in 1957 within the United Nations family. The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies.” You can learn more about the agency and its efforts related to the Japanese nuclear emergency at http://www.iaea.org.

  9. Please understand that the NRC does not have regulatory authority or responsibility for nuclear power plants outside of this country. The location of their plants are a decision by the Japanese officials.

  10. Why are these plants built so close to population? Why are they not built out in the middle of nowhere?

  11. @ Mark Orr, I understand your question and although am no expert but I think it’s a case of ” Who is going to Believe whom ! ”

    Correct me if am wrong here but I think I understand that the NRC does not engage in MEDIA interaction without substantial proof. With so much Disinformation and Misinformation being put out by the MEDIA, it would be very hard to say who is telling the truth to begin with. 1 news media says 1 thing and then another news site says another and it goes on and on until the normal average individual is so confused, he really has a hard time in believing anything that’s being said.

    Classic case of everyone screaming out ” The Sky is falling, The Sky is falling ! “

  12. I would like to ask a few questions here if I may.

    1. Why are Nuclear generating plants built in areas that are considered “Somewhat Inappropriate” and “Unsafe” then Coal plants ?
    I don’t seem to understand why we don’t build Nuclear Plants in areas like the desert, away from earthquake zones and populated areas, is there some reason why we can’t justify the cost of stringing up those power lines from coal plants ?

    2. While I do understand that the NRC has sent experts to Japan, why is it that since the major powers who utilize Nuclear power do not come together and form an INTERNATIONAL agency and dispatch said teams without the country’s request for assistance ?

    Why wait for that country’s request when it should be considered Automatic to begin with?

  13. The NRC is satisfied that Diablo Canyon meets all applicable seismic requirements, which are based on a detailed assessment of the faults and possible earthquake activity in the area.

  14. Exactly. Over the weekend as I was watching the “experts/politicians” I kept saying to myself, in response, “thats false”..”wrong”..”are you nuts”…”who is this guy?” …”easy there cowboy”…”what are you talking about”..etc etc. And then it dawned on me: what is going on here? One puppet after another that comes across the screen, why am I finding myself saying this?.

    The NEI, IAEA and NRC shoud take immediate charge to implement a new PR policy and get in front of these buffoons for the next week, refute and correct them and quell the intellectual dishonesty being spread. And then quietly go away again.

    This is an all out assualt on our industry.

  15. The NRC’s Office of Public Affairs has been part of the NRC’s 24-hour response since the event begn. Please see the press releases and blog posts for more information.

  16. Because the Main Stream Media is more interested in hyperbole than reality? I’ve read hundreds of articles on Fukushima in the aftermath of the TSUNAMI and 99% quote “experts” who are what I consider employees of the antinuclear industry. I know the IAEA, Nuclear Energy Institute, World Nuclear Association, etc. was answering the phone over the weekend. A motivated reporter would have made the call.

  17. Its great the NRC gave a briefing today. But this past weekend was the critical time. Does the NRC have a rapid response team for the media?

  18. Chairman Jaczko gave a briefing to the media today at the White House. As soon as we have a transcript, we’ll post a link. The Chairman is also scheduled to testify before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power and Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy on Wednesday morning, so look for coverage then.

  19. Could you consider adding delicious.com to your “sharethis” please, you currently are facilitating only:
    Facebook, Twitter, Digg, stumledupon and reddit

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  20. While watching the major news channels for information on the Japanese power plants this weekend I saw and heard from an MIT professor, nuclear experts from Friends of the Earth, The National Environmental Defense Council, The Union of Concerned Scientists, and World Wildlife Federation, along with “knowledgeable politicians” such as Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman. I did not see anyone from the NRC.

    In this age of endless news on multiple television and cable channels, why does the NRC not have a few knowledgeable individuals willing and authorized to sit in front a television camera and answer questions on the safety of nuclear power in the United States? Issuing carefully worded press releases carries little weight in today’s visual society.

    The NRC does not have to be an advocate of nuclear power to be a spokesperson for nuclear safety and the safety of US nuclear plants.

  21. I was reading about Diablo Canyon today and how the seismic supports were built in the mirror image of their proper positions. Does this pose any sort of threat or problem?

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