The NRC has recently received thousands of nearly identical CitizenLetter© messages expressing concerns about U.S. nuclear power plants in light of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The CitizenLetters mention the Pilgrim, Indian Point, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants, among others, asking for “immediate inspections” and making claims about the plants’ inability to withstand severe natural events.
The NRC makes sure that all U.S. nuclear power plants are built to withstand external events including earthquakes, flooding, and even tsunamis where they can occur. Each plant is designed to safely ride out the strongest earthquake appropriate for its location. The Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants, for example, are designed to safely handle the highest levels of seismic activity expected at a U.S. site and both are also designed to withstand the largest tsunami that could affect the California coast.
The events that occurred in Japan are the result of seismic activity in a “subduction zone,” where one tectonic plate is pushed under another plate. The only place this kind of situation would occur in the U.S. is off the coast of northern California, Oregon and Washington. And the only nuclear plant anywhere near there is the Columbia Generating Station, which is some 225 miles inland.
It’s also important to understand that not only does the NRC devote thousands of hours a year to inspecting each nuclear power plant in this country, but that we have also conducted two inspections after the Japan incident specifically for issues related to emergency procedures and resources – just as the CitizenLetters mentioned. Both inspections showed U.S. plants are prepared to use those emergency measures to keep the public safe.
The first inspection covered “B5b” measures, which would help keep the reactors and spent fuel pools safe even after the sudden loss of significant areas of the plants. The second inspection examined the plants’ guidelines for reducing the severity of situations where a reactor core has been damaged. The NRC has also demanded more detailed information from every plant regarding its B5b measures.
A task force of senior NRC managers and staff has been working since early April to examine the lessons that can be learned from the situation in Japan. The task force’s systematic and methodical review will generate recommendations for any changes the NRC should make to its programs and regulations to ensure protection of public health and safety and the environment. This effort will also identify issues that warrant further study in the longer term. The task force is scheduled to provide its recommendations to the Commission in July.
So, while we thank everyone who sent a CitizenLetter, all the available information continues to show that U.S. nuclear power plants are designed and operated so they will protect the public and the environment, even after severe natural events.Scott Burnell Public Affairs Note: Chairman Jaczko made some comments today about possible regulatory improvements that may come out of the post-Japan review. They are posted here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2011/11-113.pdf .