Walking towards earthquake and flooding safety

NRC inspectors Robert Krsek, Annie Kammerer and Steve Campbell (L to R) conduct seismic walkdowns of the emergency diesel generators at the Kewaunee nuclear power plant.

In response to the lessons learned from last year’s nuclear accident in Fukushima, the NRC has required every nuclear power plant in the U.S. to take a number of actions. One of the highest-priority actions involves re-examining earthquake and flooding issues. In the short term, both plant personnel and NRC inspectors (shown in the photo) are walking through the plants, ensuring the systems and components can withstand the hazards that were analyzed when the reactors were built. There are separate “walkdowns” for earthquakes and flooding.

Before the earthquake walkdowns start, the plants compile a list of reactor and spent fuel pool systems that must work after a quake. The plants also assemble teams of employees, both people familiar with plant systems and mechanical or civil/structural engineers with experience working on nuclear plant earthquake issues.

The teams walk through the plant, examining how systems and components are anchored or supported to ride out a quake. They also look for issues such as whether a quake might lead to a fire or cause something to fall on an important component.

For the flooding walkdown, the plants compile the features (such as watertight doors or barriers) that protect the site, and take into account any site changes (new buildings, for instance) that could change flooding effects. The plant personnel doing the work would again include engineers in relevant specialties, as well as staff familiar with flood response procedures.

As these teams do their work, they’ll ensure the protective features are in place and able to deal with floods. They’ll also examine how much extra physical margin is available beyond what’s expected. For example, consider a watertight door protecting against a flood to the top of the door as called for in the plant design. If a window two feet above the door could allow floodwaters in, the site has two feet of available physical margin.

The plants will use their corrective action programs to deal with any issues identified during both walkdowns. The plants must correct any situation that challenges their ability to withstand quakes or floods previously analyzed.

The NRC’s part of the walkdowns combines earthquake and flooding specialists from our headquarters with the resident inspectors who work every day at the plants. They will examine the plants’ walkdown documentation and perform independent inspections to ensure the plants have done the walkdowns appropriately. The NRC’s resident inspectors will also follow up on the plants’ actions to address whatever issues they identify.

The walkdowns will also provide information for the other part of the earthquake/flooding reanalysis, which will ensure the plants understand the current hazards at every site. This additional work will continue for several years, with flooding work completed by 2015 and earthquake work continuing into 2016 for plants needing the most extensive reanalysis.

These walkdowns are just one part of the many actions we’re taking in response to what we’ve learned from the events at Fukushima. More details are available on our website.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

NRC Employees and Elections

As everyone knows, this is an election year and the political season is well underway with candidates for President, Congress, and state legislatures holding rallies, making speeches, and raising money. It’s almost impossible to ignore.

For federal employees, it also presents some dangers. We are bound by rules that are different than for the general public. The restrictions on our political activities are found in the Hatch Act, Office of Personnel Management regulations, and NRC Management Directive 7.10. They apply to full-time and part-time federal employees, even while on leave.

And the rules come with some stiff consequences. The mandatory penalties for violating the Hatch Act start with a 30-day suspension without pay and can result in termination.

The Hatch Act restrictions only apply to “partisan” elections – elections where candidates run on the labels of national political parties. The vast majority of elections are partisan, including the 2012 election for President, Congress, and state legislatures.

If an election is “nonpartisan,” federal employees are free to participate fully, including running for office or soliciting contributions. Nonpartisan elections are usually for local offices, such as school boards, where none of the candidates are running under political party auspices.

Under the Hatch Act, no NRC employee may receive or solicit contributions or run for office in a “partisan” election (except in designated communities, mainly in the Washington, D.C. area). In addition, no employee can engage in political activity while on duty, in a government office, while wearing a government uniform or insignia, or while using a government vehicle. That prohibition includes using a government computer or e-mail to advocate for or against a partisan political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group, or to make or solicit contributions for a partisan political campaign.

NRC employees cannot even wear a political button or insignia while on duty.

However, NRC and other federal employees are allowed to assist in voter registration drives, contribute money to political organizations and be active in political clubs or parties. And we can put a political bumper sticker on our car even if we park it in a federal building or parking lot.

Members of the career Senior Executive Service (SES) have even more restrictive Hatch Act limitations—they are prohibited from taking any active role in a partisan election.

The intention of the Hatch Act is to keep politics out of the federal government workplace. That keeps all federal employees – including those of us at the NRC – focused on our missions and on our work on behalf of the American public.

John Szabo
Special Counsel
Office of the General Counsel