U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Getting the next generation interested in nuclear science

Youngsters tour the NRC training simulator

The NRC’s Technical Training Center, located in Chattanooga, Tenn., recently hosted 12 young scientists and engineers who were children and friends of NRC employees. The training center includes several state-of-the-art classrooms and – most importantly – a control room simulator used to train NRC technical staff.

The youngsters got an up-close-and-personal tour of the simulator, and were amazed to see the complexity of the buttons, switches, and alarms covering the control panels.

Training center employees enjoyed introducing the kids to the NRC, and the fields of science and engineering. The theme was “Inspector Training” and the day started with a quiz show on the NRC and its inspection program, and then the children had fun with hands-on science experiments.

In addition to touring the simulator, the youngsters got a demonstration of the center’s x-ray unit and got dressed in the protective clothing that NRC inspectors may wear when visiting nuclear power plants.

Young visitors try on protective clothing.

The day was exciting for everyone involved, and served as an important outreach activity to the young community about the NRC and its responsibilities as a regulator. The training center looks forward to future opportunities like this to encourage our youth to apply themselves in the fields of engineering and science.

N. Jeff Griffis, CHP
Senior Health Physicist
NRC Technical Training Center

Picking up the pieces after Hurricane Irene

The weather is perfect in King of Prussia, Pa., today. The sun is shining; the humidity is low; a slight breeze is blowing. It’s quite different from over the weekend when Hurricane Irene roared through the area, bringing with it high winds and heavy rain.

Two Region I nuclear power plants, which shut down during the storm, are in the process of restarting today. At Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, N.J., operators have already begun increasing power. The plant was shut down early Saturday evening as a precaution in preparation for Irene. The unit weathered the storm and plant workers have assured there was no damage to equipment or facilities.

Calvert Cliffs Unit 1 in Lusby, Md., was knocked off-line when some siding struck a transformer, causing a turbine trip, which in turn caused a reactor trip. Workers there are also assessing equipment and making repairs before returning to power.

The other units in the region made it through the storm, although several reduced power as a precaution. In addition, electrical power to some emergency sirens was lost at several sites. While many sirens have had power restored or are running on backup power, contingency plans are in place to notify the public of an emergency, if necessary. Crews are working to get the remainder up and running.

The NRC had dispatched additional inspectors to nine sites to supplement the resident inspectors during the storm. Those additional inspectors completed their work over the weekend and are back to their normal jobs today. The resident inspectors are busy carrying out our inspection program and assuring the plants are continuing to operate safely.

The NRC and the nuclear plant operators worked hard to assure that the plants were safe over the weekend. As we said before the hurricane hit, we were prepared to respond quickly and effectively had any problems developed.

Diane Screnci
Region 1 Public Affairs Officer

Nuclear Plants Safely Weather Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene lingered in the Mid-Atlantic Saturday like a dinner guest who wouldn’t leave, soaking the region with rain and pounding it with wind. Throughout the storm, the NRC has kept watch over the nuclear power plants in her path.

Initial reports show that only one nuclear plant in the Mid-Atlantic experienced any issues as Irene passed. Unit 1 of the two-reactor Calvert Cliffs plant in Lusby, Md., shut down automatically late Saturday evening after heavy wind ripped some siding off a building. The siding struck a transformer, knocking it offline, and that caused a turbine to trip, which in turn triggered the reactor shutdown.

As of Sunday morning, the reactor was safe, there was no release of radioactivity, and NRC inspectors onsite were helping plant personnel inspect and secure the facility. Unit 1 terminated its “unusual event” declaration early Sunday morning. Unit 2 remains operating at 100 percent power.

As Irene moved up the coast, the Oyster Creek plant in Toms River, N.J., which was directly in the projected storm path, shut down in anticipation of experiencing hurricane-force winds. Millstone, further north in Connecticut, reduced power in anticipation that it might also have to shut down. These precautionary moves demonstrate the focus of the NRC and industry on maintaining the safety of nuclear power plants in extreme circumstances such as hurricanes.

None of the plants in areas hit by the storm on Saturday lost offsite power from the grid. However, several plants reported some of their emergency sirens were knocked offline by power outages. All plants have back-up options for such a situation.

The NRC’s Office of Public Affairs handled numerous media inquiries about the status of the plants. The BBC World News even cited Fukushima as evidence of what a natural disaster can do to nuclear power plants. There were of course two huge differences between the double whammy that hit Japan and Hurricane Irene. First, none of the projected wind speeds or storm surges even came close to threatening the levels that the nuclear power plants in Irene’s path were designed to withstand. And, of course, we could see Irene coming – there was time to prepare and send additional NRC inspectors to the plants before the storm hit.

Other questions focused understandably on when Calvert Cliffs 1 and Oyster Creek will be able to resume operations. Unfortunately, it’s easier to shut down a nuclear power plant than it is to start one up again. There are protocols the plants must follow to ensure that everything is ready to operate again. We’ll have more about what plants must do before restarting in a future blog post.

David McIntyre
Office of Public Affairs
Moderator: This post has been slightly revised from the original.

NRC Updates Meeting Information for Next Week

Hurricane Irene has affected one NRC-related meeting for certain, and the staff has provided additional details for another meeting.

Due to the expected effects of Hurricane Irene, the National Academy of Sciences has canceled its Aug. 29 meeting on the NRC-sponsored cancer risk study. The NAS will reschedule the meeting and provide updates on its website.

The NRC staff have updated the notice for a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 31, where stakeholders and the public will comment on a staff proposal to act “without unnecessary delay” on several Japan Task Force recommendations. The new schedule has a revised agenda and a notice for the opportunity for written comments.

According to the updated notice, members of the public may submit written comments on the Near Term Task Force recommendations 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 through Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. Comments can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov/under docket ID NRC-2011-0196.

Stay tuned for other public meetings or Commission meetings that may be affected by weather events.

Scott Burnell
HQ Public Affairs Officer

NRC Preparations for Hurricane Season Enable Agency to Respond Quickly

Hurricane Irene satellite imageAs Hurricane Irene roars up the East Coast, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has prepared for the challenge and awaits landfall.

The annual hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and the NRC staff routinely tracks each storm from formation until dissipation, constantly evaluating whether it could pose a threat to U.S. nuclear plants and other NRC-licensed facilities.

As Irene approaches the mainland, Region II in Atlanta and Region I outside Philadelphia are providing regular updates to the NRC’s Headquarters Operations Center in Rockville, Md. These briefings include information about staffing of the regional Incident Response Centers, assignment of additional staff to supplement the NRC resident inspectors at the potentially affected plants, and actions underway to ensure continuous communications with NRC-licensed facilities along the projected path of the storm.

The NRC’s regional offices have already made sure that appropriate equipment, including satellite phones, are available and operational. Before hurricane season even begins, the staff ensures that hurricane response training, computer programs and emergency contact information are all up to date. NRC inspectors also confirm that nuclear power plants in hurricane-prone areas have completed their extensive hurricane preparations.

When a storm such as Irene forms and its projected path shows possible impact on a coastline, one or more of the NRC’s regional offices begins continuous hurricane tracking using the resources of all federal agencies and commercial weather forecasting services.

Within 48 hours of expected hurricane force winds, NRC officials are dispatched to the State Emergency Operations Centers. NRC regional and headquarters personnel are identified and placed “on-call” to respond if needed to any storm-induced emergency. Normal and back-up communications channels are routinely tested.

About 12 hours before the arrival of hurricane force winds, the agency will begin receiving continuous status updates from all of the NRC-licensed facilities in the hurricane’s path. Communications links will also be established with state emergency response officials and other federal response agencies.

During the storm’s landfall, NRC staff maintains close contact with the licensee staff and with NRC resident inspectors on site. If normal communications are lost, back-up communications systems are used.

Following the hurricane, the NRC inspectors will help assess the extent of any damage to the facility and, if necessary, respond to any storm-induced problems. The agency also works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine when evacuation routes are passable and offsite emergency response organizations will be sufficiently recovered from the hurricane response to resume normal activities.

We all hope Hurricane Irene and all storms have little effect on NRC-regulated facilities and all other U.S. interests, but in any case, our advance preparation allows our staff to respond quickly and effectively.

Joey Ledford
Roger Hannah
Office of Public Affairs
Region 2
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