Recent Uprate Approved for Upstate New York

Enough news space has been devoted over the years to the prospects for new reactors in the U.S. to lay waste to several small forests and countless electrons. However, there is a different means by which the nation’s share of nuclear-generated electricity can be increased, and it does not involve earth-movers, the construction of new buildings or other changes visible to the casual observer.

Another option available to nuclear power plant owners is to pursue a power uprate, which essentially means an increase in the maximum amount of power a reactor can generate. But before a power uprate can be implemented, it must first undergo a thorough review by the NRC.

Just last week, the NRC approved a 15 percent power uprate for the Nine Mile Point 2 nuclear power plant in upstate New York. That approval was the culmination of an NRC review that began with the submittal of the application on May 27, 2009.

During the course of the agency’s evaluation of the proposal, NRC staff scrutinized data regarding the proposal and posed dozens of technical questions to the plant’s owner, Constellation. They included queries about the effects of greater stresses on piping and the plant’s steam dryer, a component at the top of the reactor vessel, as a result of operations at higher power levels.

The NRC does not proceed to a final decision until all such questions are answered to our full satisfaction.

Uprates are not a new development. In fact, the NRC approved the first uprate back in 1977 and has to date okayed 140 such applications. All told, the uprates have led to an increase in power output nationwide of about 6,000 megawatts electric.

There are three different kinds of power uprates: “measurement uncertainty recapture” uprates, “stretch” uprates and “extended” uprates. Here’s a brief description of each:

Measurement uncertainty recapture uprates – They involve an increase of less than 2 percent and are achieved by implementing enhanced techniques for calculating reactor power levels. State-of-the-art devices are used to more precisely measure feedwater flow, which is used to calculate reactor power.

Stretch uprates – The increases are typically between 2 and 7 percent and usually involve changes to instrumentation settings but do not require major plant modifications.

Extended uprates – Power boosts of this type have been approved for increases of up to 20 percent. They usually involve significant modifications to major pieces of non-nuclear equipment, such as high-pressure turbines, condensate pumps and motors, main generators and/or transformers. The Nine Mile Point 2 uprate would fall into this category.

For more information on power uprates, visit the NRC web site at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates.html.

Neil Sheehan
Region I Public Affairs Officer

Acting as a ‘Neutral’ to Help NRC Meetings Be More Productive

The NRC hosts hundreds of public meetings each year. For the most part, these meetings go well — discussions take place, participants get what they need, and the parties move forward with plans and actions. From time-to-time, though, NRC staff members need some help to make a meeting successful. In those cases, an NRC facilitator may get involved.

An NRC facilitator is a specially trained NRC employee who acts as a “neutral” and whose main purpose is to make sure meetings are successful for all participants. This can mean anything from helping set up a productive agenda to making sure the public knows about the meeting to ensuring all meeting attendees have a chance to participate to rephrasing something someone has said to help people understand each other. Facilitators are there to represent the process of the meeting and to do what they can to assist all participants.

Can it be a challenge working for the NRC and yet acting as a neutral during an NRC meeting? Definitely. Acting as a neutral means in some cases you are helping NRC staffers get their point across and in other cases helping members of the public get their point across. There have been plenty of meetings where I have found myself devoting my energy to trying to get the NRC staff in attendance to understand the excellent point a member of the public has (in my opinion very clearly) made.

Good communication takes hard work, and when the topic is as complicated as nuclear regulation and you throw in some emotion on top of that, it can be even more challenging. A good facilitator can make the communication process a bit easier on everyone.

There is always room for improvement when it comes to our public meetings. Facilitators can go a long way to ensuring meetings are productive, but it’s your input that really helps us focus on what aspects of our public meetings needs improving. You can help us by always filling out a public meeting feedback form after an NRC public meeting and providing the form to an NRC staff member or dropping it in the mail.

We are currently taking steps to improve that form and to make filling it out easier (as in electronic). If you have some feedback, we can also take it here as a comment. Please be sure to let us know in your comments (here or on the form) if a facilitator was involved, and how he or she did.

Lance Rakovan
Senior Communications Specialist and Manager of NRC’s In-House Meeting Facilitator Program