U.S. NRC Blog

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New Reactor Construction Experience Program — Learning from the Past

The NRC is currently reviewing several applications from the nuclear industry to build more than 20 new nuclear reactors. These new plants, so called Generation III+ reactors, include designs with an alphabet of acronyms. They include the Advanced Passive or AP-1000, the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, or ABWR, the Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor, or APWR, the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, or ESBWR, and the Evolutionary Power Reactor, or EPR.

Construction of these reactors cannot begin unless and until the NRC completes its technical reviews and the license application is approved.

There are currently 104 operating reactors in the U.S. Many of them were constructed in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Both the industry and the NRC faced many challenges in building and licensing and regulating these reactors. One major challenge was ineffective control and management of the overall projects.

In 1984, at the direction of Congress, the NRC studied the causes of major quality-related problems in the construction of some nuclear power plants. At the conclusion of the study, the NRC published NUREG-1055, “Improving Quality and the Assurance of Quality in the Design and Construction of Nuclear Power Plants,” to document its findings and recommendations.

Some examples of the recommendations include: the industry should put higher standards on their own actions, work harder to identify how and why quality problems occurred, and to enlist the help of third-party auditors to identify issues objectively and early.

To improve NRC programs, the study suggested a stronger emphasis on team inspections and the role of resident inspectors, and better data and trending analysis to diagnose problems earlier in the process. In addition, the study recommended that higher attention and quality assurance measures should be placed on systems and structures that have the most impact on overall nuclear safety.

To make sure we’d learned the lessons from past construction projects, the NRC created the Construction Experience Program in 2007. It has grown from one to four staff in the past four years. Its purpose is to review and evaluate problems at domestic and international construction projects, and to propose ways to enhance NRC technical reviews and inspection procedures.

Since its inception, the program has evaluated more than 300 domestic and international operating and construction experience reports dating from the 1980s to present. As a result of these evaluations, the staff has published 10 information notices to share lessons learned and insights from the evaluations with internal and external NRC stakeholders and the public. These information notices raised the awareness of utilities about particular construction and operational experiences to ensure they did not reoccur.

Omid Tabatabai
Senior Reactors Systems Engineer

7 responses to “New Reactor Construction Experience Program — Learning from the Past

  1. Michael September 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    I wish we’d stop building these. Look at all the damage that has been caused recently by nuclear energy. Let’s go with clean, renewable energy sources instead like solar, wind and the like.

  2. Aging Nuke September 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    In addition to NUREG – 1055 mentioned by Mr. Tabatabai in his post and is a very useful reference, there is another document that would be worth reading, which is a case study of a construction project that suffered from a wide variety of problems. The additional reference is NUREG-0969, Report of the NRC Evaluation of the Quality of Construction at the Zimmer Nuclear Power Station. The Zimmer project had suffered from a number of problems early-on: inadequate QC, an inexperienced Constructor, an Architect Engineer with very limited presence on-site, a work environment that fostered disgruntled employees who became whistle blowers, and poor control of design and construction interfaces. NUREG-0969 describes the problems and the project’s many efforts to recover.

    During the 1980s, the NRC conducted a number of major team inspections at construction sites, which were called Construction Appraisal Teams or CAT teams, which used a multi-disciplined approach that focused. As I recall, there were on the order of 15 CAT inspections. There was at least one NRC Inspection Procedure (IP), which gave instructions to CAT teams on the conduct of these inspections. Both the CAT reports and the IP were placed in the Public Document Room (PDR).

    NUREG – 1055, which Mr. Tabatabai mentioned, is posted on the NUREG section of the NRC website. NUREG – 0969 on Zimmer is not. Because of their age, I suspect that the CAT reports are not accessible through ADAMS, but being ADAMS-challenged, I have not checked. These older reports may be available either in hard copy in the NRC warehouse or on Microfiche at the Public Document Room (PDR) in One White Flint North. If enough of us who have an interest in reactor construction, request copies, perhaps the PDR staff would scan these documents and make them available through ADAMS.

  3. Pete Johnson September 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    You mentioned the ESBWR above. What is happening in its Design Certification process? The review schedule at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/design-cert/esbwr/review-schedule.html, which was last updated on March 10, shows a target date for issuing the final rule this month, yet the schedule for all new DCDs/COLs at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/new-licensing-files/new-rx-licensing-app-legend.pdf, which is dated September 8, says the schedule is under review. Is there a document in ADAMS explaining the holdup?

    • Moderator September 13, 2011 at 11:08 am

      The NRC has identified a new technical issue that we have to resolve before we can issue the final rule. We’ve asked GEH to provide the information we need to complete our review of this issue. Once we have enough information to proceed, the NRC will update the ESBWR web page with a revised projection for completing the rulemaking.

  4. Anonymous September 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Have you solved the storage dilemna associated with nuclear power, if your solution is to store it in Oregon and Washington think again. How about store it where it is used. We store ours you store yours. Or perhaps your back yard would work, I would like to hear your thoughts on this very real very long term problem.

  5. asparaguscutter September 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Your excellent program could be enhaced by the inclusion of two logs,transparent to the public. One log,for each nuclear project listing ,by name and title, the resposible and accountable individual for each item cited in your program. The second log would list ,by name and title, the resposible and accountable individual in NRC for each item cited in your log. PVNGS has set an example by citing resposible individuals in its reports.

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