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Monthly Archives: January 2013

NRC Forms Special San Onofre Review Panel

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane (second from right) listens as Southern California Edison executive Richard St. Onge (third from right) discusses issues with one of the damaged steam generators at SONGS. The steam generator is in the right foreground.

NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane (second from right) listens as Southern California Edison executive Richard St. Onge (third from right) discusses issues with one of the damaged steam generators at SONGS. The steam generator is in the right foreground.

The NRC has established a special panel to coordinate the agency’s evaluation of Southern California Edison Co.’s proposed plan for restarting its Unit 2 reactor and ensuring that the root causes of problems with the plant’s steam generators are identified and addressed.

Art Howell, the NRC’s Region IV deputy regional administrator, will serve as co-chairman of the panel along with Dan Dorman, deputy director for engineering and corporate support in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR). Jim Andersen, chief of NRR’s Electrical Engineering Branch, will serve as deputy team manager of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Oversight Panel.

The panel will ensure that NRC communicates a unified and consistent position in a clear and predictable manner to the licensee, public and other stakeholders, and establishes a record of major regulatory and licensee actions taken and technical issues reviewed, including adequacy of Southern California Edison’s corrective actions.

The panel also will be responsible for conducting periodic public meetings with the utility and providing a recommendation to senior NRC management regarding restart of SONGS Unit 2. In comments to reporters Monday following a tour of the plant, Chairman Allison Macfarlane said Unit 2 will not be permitted to restart unless the NRC has reasonable assurance it can be operated safely.

Other panel members include: 

  • Ed Roach, chief, Mechanical Vendor Inspection Branch, NRO
  • Ryan Lantz, chief, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Greg Werner, inspection & assessment lead, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Nick Taylor, senior project engineer, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Greg Warnick, senior resident inspector, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
  • Doug Broaddus, chief, SONGS Special Project Branch, NRR
  • Randy Hall, project manager, SONGS Special Project Branch, NRR
  • Ken Karwoski, senior level advisor, Division of Engineering, NRR
  • Michele Evans, director, Division of Operating Reactor Licensing (alternate is Pat Hiland, director, Division of Engineering)

Improving Communication at the NRC

Public Meeting Facilitated by Lance Rakovan
Lance Rakovan

Senior Communication Specialist

At the NRC, we do our best to be open and keep the public informed about what actions we are taking and why we are taking them. We are also always open to suggestions on how to improve our communications with the public.

On Jan. 23, the NRC will hold a “virtual” public meeting (via webinar and conference call) to discuss potential ways the agency might improve communications. Discussion topics include:

  • Reflections on the NRC’s communications since the Fukushima event, including actions the NRC has taken in response. Since Fukushima, are you getting the information you need involving the NRC and the nuclear industry’s progress in implementing lessons learned from the event?
  • Potential actions the NRC might take in the long term to improve stakeholder involvement. In addition to or instead of its current communication mechanisms, how should the NRC communicate about significant regulatory issues?
  • Ways the NRC could partner with other organizations to improve public communication and education on topics associated with radiological safety. Which groups might be open to cooperating with the agency on public communications?
  • Non-traditional places/ways the NRC could communicate its message. Are there unconventional communications channels the NRC is not using that could help get out the agency’s message?

Our hope is to get some “out of the box” ideas on ways we can improve howwe communicate with the public.

Details about the meeting can be found here.

Whether or not you can participate in this meeting, please feel free to provide input on any of the topics listed above by commenting to this blog posting. We will incorporate any comments received here into the meeting summary. 

Force-on-Force or Was That a Gunfight at a Nuclear Power Plant?

Clay Johnson
Chief, Security Performance Evaluation Branch

They are dressed in camouflage, fit and well-trained, and they creep quietly toward the perimeter of a nuclear power plant under cover of darkness. Their realistic weapons reflect dully in the moonlight, but these weapons fire blank ammunition and lasers that record hits and misses.

Their goal? A particular target set within the plant which, if compromised, could impact the safety of the plant and the community that surrounds it. The target set this night? A closely guarded secret known only to the “armed intruders” and the NRC inspection team that includes active duty military members from the U.S. Special Operations Command.

The attacks will be repeated over the course of three days and nights so that different attack methods and various targets at each nuclear power plant are tested. In each scenario, the plant’s security personnel work to protect specific areas of the plant according to their facility’s individual security plan. Each plant is tested in this manner every three years.

These force-on-force inspections have been part of the NRC inspection regime since 1991, but they were significantly beefed up and the frequency increased to every three years after Sept. 11, 2001. They are designed to assess the plant’s ability to defend itself against the conditions put forth under the “design basis threat” or DBT. These inspections are in addition to the baseline security inspections performed by the NRC’s regional inspectors and the inspections done daily by the NRC’s resident inspectors. NRC security experts routinely review options for further enhancements to the program.

The details of what happens during a force-on-force inspection are not public due to the sensitive nature of security plans at the plants. If a deficiency is found during an inspection, the NRC inspectors stay on site until compensatory measures are put in place, and then the NRC reviews the plant’s long-term plan to rectify the problem, and may issue violations. These violations are only discussed in a general way with the public.

The “bad guys” are part of what is called the Composite Adversary Force and they are contracted by the nuclear industry to perform these mock attacks to NRC specifications. The plant knows the force-on-force will occur at a specific date for safety and logistical purposes and to provide time to coordinate two sets of security offices – one to participate in the inspection and one to maintain the security posture of the plant. The mock attacks are also preceded by significant planning and on-site tabletop drills conducted by the NRC inspection team.

These realistic and physically intensive exercises are but one vehicle by which the NRC ensures the country’s nuclear power plants and Category I fuel facilities are prepared and able to protect themselves. Meetings on possible additional enhancements to this inspection program will be announced in the future.

NRC Reports on Oyster Creek Hurricane Performance

Photo of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, Unit 1, located near Forked River, N.J.

A photo of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, Unit 1, located near Forked River, N.J.
Courtesy:©Exelon Nuclear

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

The NRC staff has issued the findings of the Special Inspection it conducted at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant to review events related to “Superstorm” Sandy. The inspection was launched on Nov. 13.

Our three-member team’s primary focus was the timing of the emergency declarations at the Lacey Township (Ocean County), N.J. facility during the storm. Sandy-generated high water levels at the plant’s water intake structure, prompting first an “Unusual Event” declaration and later an “Alert” declaration.

The inspectors also reviewed preparations by Exelon, the plant’s owner, prior to the storm’s arrival; equipment performance; and overall command and control from an emergency preparedness perspective.

The inspectors’ report is now available on the NRC website. The team has concluded that the declarations were timely and accurate and that plant personnel appropriately carried out their duties during the storm.

At the same time, the inspectors did observe several areas where performance could be improved. Some examples included heightened awareness of emergency declaration thresholds, clearer documentation in control room records and ensuring reliable back-up power for the plant’s emergency operations facility.

The report also contains a company-identified violation determined to be of very low safety significance related to the use of incorrect meteorological tower data.

In general, the report underscores how plant operators dealt with the harsh conditions at the water intake structure and other challenges, such as the loss of off-site power for a time.

While the Special Inspection is finished, the NRC’s Resident Inspectors at Oyster Creek will provide additional observations about plant performance during the storm in an upcoming report.

What’s more, an NRC Petition Review Board continues working on a petition, submitted by several environmental organizations, that raises questions regarding plant performance during the storm. The board on Jan. 3rd conducted a public meeting with the petitioners to gather more information about their concerns. As NRC staff made clear, their goal was to listen to the petitioners, though the staff did explain why the NRC denied the petitioners’ request to keep Oyster Creek shut down following the storm.


A Fire at South Texas Project – How the NRC Responded

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
The Region IV Incident Response Center during an emergency exercise last month.

The Region IV Incident Response Center during an emergency exercise last month.

At 4:40 p.m. Central Time Tuesday, officials at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant near Bay City, Texas, notified the NRC’s Operations Center that a fire had broken out in the main transformer of Unit 2, causing an automatic shutdown. Unit 1 was unaffected and continued to operate at full power.

As designed, the plant’s emergency diesel generators energized to power safety-related equipment. All four auxiliary feedwater pumps started as required to supply power to the plant’s steam generators for cooling. However, power to non-safety related electrical buses was lost, cutting off power to the plant’s reactor coolant pumps. As part of the plant’s design, natural draft circulation continued to cool the plant’s shutdown reactor to remove decay heat.

The plant declared an Unusual Event – the lowest of four categories of nuclear emergency — due to the transformer fire at 4:55 p.m. The plant’s on-site fire brigade responded and quickly extinguished the blaze, so no off-site assistance was required.

The NRC’s resident inspector, who was on-site at the time, responded to the event by going to the plant’s control room to observe the licensee’s response to the event. The NRC’s Region IV Office in Arlington, Texas, activated its Incident Response Center to monitor the event.

There were no personnel injuries and no radiological releases were reported. The Unusual event was terminated at 7:47 p.m., although the NRC’s resident inspector remained onsite until about midnight.

As part of its ongoing oversight, the NRC will monitor the licensee’s follow-up actions. These include identification of the cause of the transformer fire; a review of the behavior of the plant’s electrical protection systems; and various repair activities.

“Overall, from what we now know, plant operators responded well to the event,” said Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Steve Reynolds. “The NRC will conduct an independent and comprehensive assessment of this incident as part of its oversight process.”

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