Two years after Fukushima: Enhancements to U.S. Nuclear Plants Continue

David Skeen
Director, Japan Lessons-Learned Directorate

JLD vertical CToday is the second anniversary of the terrible earthquake, related tsunami and the resulting nuclear accident in Japan. Two years ago, the world watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded. Almost from those very first days, the NRC began to focus on learning from the incident to enhance our reactor safety – and to make sure such an incident would never happen here at home.

For example, U.S. nuclear power plants are using existing programs to address issues identified during last year’s walkdowns, which examined each plant’s earthquake and flooding protection features. Our resident inspectors are watching over that work using our Reactor Oversight Process, and we expect to audit approximately 20 plants (10 for earthquake walkdowns and 10 for flooding) in the spring and early summer to ensure the plants remain protected from such hazards.

We also continue to work with the plants on their re-analysis of flooding and earthquake hazards. We prioritized the flooding re-evaluations last year, examining several factors to give plants one, two or three years to submit their work. The first set of plants should have their responses in by tomorrow, and we’ll review the re-evaluated hazards before issuing a safety assessment for each site. The first set of earthquake hazard re-evaluations, for plants in the central and eastern United States, will be due in September. We’ll give those documents a similar review and resulting safety assessment for each plant.

The plants have also obtained additional equipment that can help keep the reactor and spent fuel pools cool if normal power sources are lost for extended periods of time, as was the case at Fukushima. This work responds to one of three Orders we issued to U.S. nuclear power plants in March 2012. Every plant provided a status report on complying with those Orders in October 2012, and we’ve found that all plants appear to be on track to meet the Orders’ requirements by the required deadlines.

The plants have also recently submitted their integrated approaches to comply with the Orders, and we’re reviewing those plans. By the end of April we’re also expecting the plants to provide the their assessments of how many staff a plant needs to have on hand to respond to a loss of power involving every reactor at a given site

The staff’s latest update to the Commissioners on Fukushima-related activities provides a more detailed look at how each of the NRC Near-Term Task Force’s recommendations is being implemented. While all of the Fukushima-related items are important, we’ve made sure U.S. reactors are paying proper attention to maintaining plant safety, any ongoing work of greater safety benefit or other existing high-priority actions protective of safety.

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