U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: March 2013

New Web Pages Illustrate NRC’s Post-Fukushima Activities

Matthew Mitchell
Chief, Projects Management Branch
Japan Lessons-Learned Directorate

JLD_Orders_rack_cardWhen you talk about something over and over again, you sometimes end up with a verbal shorthand to keep conversations moving. The NRC has certainly done that in discussing “Tiers,” “Mitigating Strategies” and some of the other language describing our work to implement the lessons learned from the 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima. But we’re taking steps to keep our verbal shorthand understandable.

Each of the three Fukushima-related Orders we issued to U.S. reactors in March 2012 has a fairly long title, and over time we’ve condensed those titles into two- or three-word phrases. Now the NRC website includes a quick summary for each Order, complete with a visual icon. We expect to incorporate those icons onto other pages to help you follow the actions plants are taking to comply with the Orders. Since one of the Orders (and a lot of recent discussion and news coverage) focuses on the 31 U.S. reactors with designs similar to Fukushima, we’ve listed all those plants on one page.

A few months after Fukushima, the senior managers that made up NRC’s Near-Term Task Force provided several dozen individual recommendations for the agency to consider. The staff, with the Commission’s approval, created a three-level approach to prioritize the task force’s findings, and we’ve created a summary of the prioritization effort.

You’ll find printed versions of these two summaries at meetings the NRC holds near U.S. nuclear power plants.

As always, if you have any questions about our Fukushima lessons-learned effort, please e-mail JLD_Public.Resource@nrc.gov.

Working Together to Keep Radioactive Materials Safe

Kim Lukes
Health Physicist
Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs

Occasionally the Department of Energy makes news when it picks up radioactive materials from users who no longer want them. DOE plays an important role when it secures these sources pending final disposal — often prompting headlines about keeping “dirty bomb” materials away from bad guys.

These headlines overlook the many layers of protection that keep radioactive materials secure every day. The NRC and Agreement State co-regulators require licensees with materials that could pose the biggest hazard to store them securely. When no longer needed, they can be securely stored on site, safely moved to a commercial disposal site or turned over to the federal government for disposal. The NRC and Agreement State regulators inspect licensees periodically to make sure they are meeting the requirements. These requirements provide adequate protection against theft or misuse of radioactive materials in the U.S.

Earlier this month the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an arm of DOE, picked up a source that was no longer needed for medical research at Temple University in Pennsylvania. By law, DOE is responsible for disposing of this type of waste, although DOE does not yet have an approved disposal site or method. The department will store the source — in this case, an old irradiator containing cesium-137 — until a disposal site is available.

Before NNSA picked up the source, it was protected as all risk-significant radioactive sources are. (These materials are also known as International Atomic Energy Agency Category 1 and Category 2 quantity of sources). The NRC and its Agreement State partners put measures in place after Sept. 11, 2001, to protect high-risk radioactive materials against theft. Today, these measures protect more than 75,000 sources used in medical, commercial and research activities. The NRC just updated and expanded these security requirements, adding them to a new section of our regulations — 10 CFR Part 37.

The security requirements include:

• Background checks and fingerprinting to ensure that people with access to radioactive materials are trustworthy and reliable;

• Controls on who can access areas where radioactive materials are stored or used;

• Security plans and procedures to monitor, detect, assess and respond to unauthorized access attempts;

• Coordination and response planning between licensees and local law enforcement;

• Coordination and tracking of radioactive materials shipments; and

• Security barriers to discourage theft of portable devices.

Besides its Offsite Source Recovery Project, NNSA has a Global Threat Reduction Initiative to help improve the security of nuclear and radioactive materials internationally. NNSA also provides voluntary security enhancements domestically. Licensees who meet NRC or Agreement State security requirements can chose to work with NNSA to put additional security enhancements in place. The NRC cooperates with NNSA on this voluntary program. Security of these materials is a top priority for the NRC. We continue to assess and improve our security requirements as needed.

NRC’s Waste Confidence Scoping Report: What’s It All About?

Andy Imboden
Chief, Communications Branch, Waste Confidence Directorate

wcd_banner_smallThe NRC’s Waste Confidence Directorate has issued its scoping summary report  – based on the 1,700 comments we received on the question of what issues we’ll consider in the environmental review of the agency’s policy on long-term spent fuel storage. As you can imagine, there was tremendous public interest in this report.

The Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and a related regulation will be the NRC’s response to last year’s U.S. Appeals Court ruling. That ruling directed the agency to analyze the environmental effects of never having a permanent repository for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel, as well as further analyses of spent fuel pool leaks and fires.

The scoping report does what its name implies – it defines the scope of the environmental review. The report lists comments and subject areas that will be covered in the GEIS (“in scope”) and explains why other subjects – such as defense waste, reprocessing facilities, and site-specific safety concerns – will not (“out of scope”).

This report also describes how the upcoming GEIS will be structured. We anticipate publishing the draft GEIS in September, with a series of public meetings across the country to present the draft and receive public comments.

During the scoping process, Waste Confidence Directorate staff reviewed some 700 comment submissions with 1,700 individual comments. Staff grouped and responded to the comments according to common concerns and issues. All comments, regardless of who submitted them or how they were submitted, received equal consideration. In addition to the summary report, the NRC has compiled and listed all 1,700 comments in a separate comment document.

The NRC is sending a copy of the scoping summary report to each person and organization who participated in the scoping process. The Waste Confidence Directorate holds monthly public teleconferences to discuss the status of the Waste Confidence GEIS and rulemaking.

There will be more opportunities for the public to participate and comment on waste confidence as the process goes on. The draft GEIS and proposed rule are scheduled to be issued later this year, and the NRC is planning to conduct regional public meetings to discuss these documents. Stay tuned for more details!

Taking an Updated Look at a Potential Accident’s Economic Consequences

Rich Correia
Director, Division of Risk Analysis
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

The NRC’s review of new reactor licenses, renewal of existing licenses or major changes to our safety regulations involves an analysis of the impacts of potential accidents. Long before the 2011 accident at Fukushima, these analyses included the possibility of radioactive contamination causing economic harm, such as by making land unusable. Now, the Commission — after considering recommendations from the agency’s technical and legal staff — has directed the NRC staff to update our guidance on considering economic consequences.

Property damage, business losses and other accident effects were a regular part of our public conversations last year as the NRC began implementing the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident. Subsequently, we decided to review the agency’s current economic consequence analysis and consider options for possibly changing the process.

In following this Commission-directed update, the agency will examine the information used in comparing the costs and benefits of a potential safety rule change or nuclear power plant modification. For example, we’ll revise the costs of replacing a damaged reactor’s electricity output, since generation and transmission markets have been deregulated in some cases. We’ll also consider how changes in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules have affected transmission costs. We’ll revise our guidance for economic consequences costs based on up-to-date data and what we’ve learned from recent and ongoing accident analysis (such as last year’s State-of-the-art Reactor Consequences Analyses).

Following the Commission’s direction, we’re going to develop a follow-on paper that describes and assesses for Commission consideration potential changes to our cost-benefit analysis guidance. We’ll be holding a public meeting in the near future as part of this process, so members of the public and other interested parties can hear the staff’s plans, ask questions and provide comments to the staff.

The Commissioners’ individual votes on this decision are available on the NRC website.

NRC Commission Approves More Post-Fukushima Upgrades to Nuclear Plants

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

JLL gauge iconThe NRC has already ordered numerous upgrades to nuclear power plant safety based on what we’ve learned about the Fukushima nuclear incident in 2011. Now, the NRC’s Commission is doing more. They have just approved a two-track approach for additional improvements to systems at 31 U.S. reactors that would vent pressure during accidents.

The Commission’s decision is outlined in a Staff Requirements Memorandum. It provides details about the decision, but this is the bottom line: the NRC will issue an Order requiring stronger venting systems and will use the agency’s rulemaking process to consider the best approach by which these 31 reactors can keep radioactive material from the environment during a severe accident.

Some background: Some of the U.S. reactors that are similar to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have vents that reduce pressure during an accident and keep water flowing to the reactor to cool the fuel. The venting systems at Fukushima played a role in their nuclear crisis, and the NRC, last March, issued an Order to the 31 plants with similar designs to take action. The plants either had to install vents or improve their existing venting system. The goal was to make sure the vents can operate during the early phases of an accident, even if the plant lost all power for an extended time.

In their latest decision, the NRC Commission votes to further strengthen these vents. The NRC staff has 60 days to finalize an Order for these enhancements. Generally speaking, these additional requirements mean the vents could handle the pressures, temperatures and radiation levels from a damaged reactor, and that plant personnel could operate the vents under these conditions.

As part of the same decision, the Commissioners directed the staff to begin a formal rulemaking on filtering methods that would prevent radioactive material from escaping containment in an accident, either through new filter systems or a combination of existing systems. The staff will develop the technical analysis, a proposed rule and then a final rule. Throughout this process, the public and various stakeholders will have opportunities to submit comments and attend meetings to ask questions. And there will be many future posts about the progress!

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