U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Chairman Macfarlane Confirmed For A Five-Year Term

Eliot Brenner
Public Affairs Director

chairmanBy unanimous consent last night, the U.S. Senate confirmed Allison Macfarlane to a full five-year term on the NRC Commission. President Obama had previously indicated he would re-designate her as Chairman. Unanimous consent is a Senate procedure that does not require a member-by-member roll call vote.

Paperwork permitting, we expect her to be sworn into her new term as early as Monday morning.

The NRC is headed by five Commissioners nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for staggered five-year terms, with one Commissioner’s term ending on June 30th of each year. One of the five is designated as the Chairman and official spokesperson of the Commission. The other Commissioners are: Kristine Svinicki, George Apostalakis, William Magwood and William Ostendorff.

Macfarlane was originally selected to complete the final year of the term held by the previous chairman. That term expires June 30.

This is what she had to say about the confirmation:

“I am honored by the trust the President has placed in me by nominating me for a full term on the Commission, and grateful that the Senate has confirmed my appointment.

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission fulfills an essential mission for the American people, with nuclear safety and security our paramount priority. During the past year, I’ve taken great pride in leading this exceptional agency. We have accomplished a substantial amount, and I am pleased that we will be able to continue this work. I will work with my Commission colleagues and the staff to ensure that the NRC continues to excel. I will remain committed to transparency and continue to seek opportunities to further public engagement. I will also continue to champion the importance of regulatory independence.

“There are a number of significant issues facing the Commission. I have full confidence that we will meet the challenges ahead.”

Note: Allison Macfarlane was sworn in today (July 1) as Chairman of the NRC.

The NRC Makes Sure Employees at Perry Are Focused on Worker Radiation Safety

Viktoria Mitlyng
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region III

magnifyingglassSeven NRC inspectors started an in-depth inspection at the Perry nuclear station in Ohio last week to make sure the plant has fixed long-standing problems with implementation of its program for protecting workers from unnecessary radiation.

Over the past two years the NRC has identified multiple, significant weaknesses in Perry’s implementation of its occupational radiation safety program. The issues identified relate only to protection of workers inside the facility, not protection of the public. There have been no overexposures to workers as a result of these issues, and there are no problems with the plant’s program to protect the public from radiation. Discovery of these violations resulted in a steep increase in NRC oversight.

Since then, NRC inspectors have been a consistent presence at Perry. The initial inspection conducted between August and November 2012 to determine if the plant has resolved deficiencies in the worker radiation safety area could not be completed because our inspectors continued to see mistakes before and during the inspection. Recognizing that the company’s corrective actions had not been effective, we directed the plant to make additional improvements. After taking additional steps, the plant told the NRC they were ready to show they had addressed the problems.

perrWe have conducted two extensive inspections at Perry within the last year involving multiple NRC specialists in various areas and from different parts of the agency. As we reported in a previous blog, we sent four additional inspectors to monitor radiation safety practices during a recent refueling outage, when the plant has the highest number of workers accessing high radiation areas. Our inspectors’ observations provided valuable input for the current inspection.

This high level of engagement from the NRC reflects the measure of our commitment to making sure workers at the plant are protected from unnecessary radiation exposure.

Our specialists are now independently evaluating if Perry’s efforts were sufficient to resolve worker radiation safety concerns. Specifically, their goals are to verify that the company:

• thoroughly understands the causes of the problem;

• has made sufficient improvements to prevent recurrence; and

• has properly assessed if similar problems exist in other areas.

We are also evaluating the overall safety culture of workers outside of the radiation safety group to determine if all workers are taking a personal responsibility for worker radiation safety at the plant. To that end, NRC inspectors will interview around 100 plant employees and contractors.

If our inspection team determines that Perry has not been able to resolve the weaknesses in its implementation of radiation safety practices, the company will start to receive the highest level of NRC oversight for an operating plant.

Factoring in Human Factors in Nuclear Power Plants

Valerie Barnes, PhD
Sr. Human Factors Analyst

Nuclear power plants are complicated. There are myriad systems and countless pieces of equipment that work together — and independently — to produce electricity. And they must work in a way that’s safe both for the communities around them and the workers themselves.

psychBut it takes more than machinery and equipment to make a plant run safely. It also takes people. And, well, people are very complicated, too.

That’s where we come in, NRC’s human factors psychologists – but we won’t be asking workers to lie on a couch and tell us their feelings and thoughts. Rather, our job is to assess the many things that affect human performance on the job. We are experts in measuring how humans process information and make decisions, as well as the behavior of individuals, groups and organizations in real-life settings. We look at the design of procedures and computer interfaces, the ergonomics of the workplace, how jobs are staffed, how staffers are trained and qualified, and what’s important for ensuring they are fit for duty. We also study communications and teamwork, and safety culture.

It’s our job is to ask and answer questions such as, “How might human performance fail in these circumstances? How likely is failure and what are the potential consequences? What could be changed to make failures less likely or less consequential?”

To answer these questions, the NRC’s human factors researchers collect information from academic sources, conduct experiments, and use operating experience from the nuclear and other industries to evaluate how human capabilities and limitations impact nuclear safety and security. From there, we use the research findings to create technical reports, regulations, and guidance. We also help resolve safety issues and make regulatory decisions.

To learn about this important – but perhaps little known – field of study and its importance to nuclear power plant safety, the NRC has just posted a video on the subject on YouTube. See what these specialized psychologists do – which has nothing to do with having clients lie on a couch and talk about their dreams.

Two Separate NRC Efforts Address Spent Fuel Safety

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

Today, the NRC is making publicly available four documents relating to the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel. The first three represent the agency’s work to date on revising its waste confidence rule and analyzing the environmental effects of extended spent fuel storage. The fourth is a draft study examining whether earlier transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry cask storage would significantly reduce risks to public health and safety.

Although both waste confidence and the spent fuel pool study discuss the safety of spent fuel, these are two separate efforts with distinct goals. So we wanted to explain the processes here on the blog to help avoid confusion.

dropquotedaveThe waste confidence documents represent a major milestone in the NRC’s effort to address last year’s U.S. Appeals Court decision striking down our waste confidence rule. The court directed the agency to analyze the environmental effects of never having a permanent repository for the nation’s commercial spent fuel, as well as the effects of spent fuel pool leaks and fires.

The three waste confidence documents being posted today on the NRC website are:

• A staff paper to the Commission (SECY-13-0061) recommending publication of a proposed rule and draft generic environmental impact statement, or GEIS, for public comment;

• A draft Federal Register notice containing the proposed rule and a “Statement of Considerations,” or preamble, that explains the rule, the conclusions in the GEIS that support the rule, and the changes in format that the NRC is recommending as part of this rulemaking (Enclosure1); and

• The draft generic environmental impact statement on the effects of continued storage of spent fuel (Enclosure 2); it serves as the regulatory basis for the proposed rule. A list of reference documents used in preparing the GEIS is also being posted on the NRC’s waste confidence webpage.

These documents are now before the Commission and are being made publicly available under standard agency procedure. The Commission may approve, modify or disapprove these documents, so we are not yet seeking public comments. We hope to publish them officially for comment in late August or early September, but that timeframe depends on Commission approval.

When they are published, the 75-day official public comment period will begin. During that period, we will hold 10 public meetings around the country to present the proposed rule and draft GEIS and receive your comments. Two of these meetings will be at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md. The rest will be in New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, southern California, central California, Minnesota, Ohio, and North Carolina.

Details will be announced closer to the dates on the NRC’s public meetings webpage and the waste confidence webpage.

reportsThe spent fuel pool study is being published for public comment. A Federal Register notice to be published soon will set a 30-day deadline and explain how to submit comments.

The NRC began this study after the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011. Although the spent fuel pools at Fukushima did not fail, the accident sparked debate in this country over whether it might be safer to transfer spent fuel from pools to dry cask storage sooner than is the norm.

The study considered a pool at a boiling-water reactor with Mark 1 containment (the type used at Fukushima and 23 U.S. reactors) and an earthquake several times stronger than the pool was designed to withstand. It examined both a “full” pool and one with less fuel and more space between the assemblies, with and without emergency procedures to add water to the pool in the unlikely event an earthquake causes the pool to drain.

The pool study and the waste confidence review are separate efforts. The draft GEIS does not explicitly reference the pool study, though the waste confidence staff worked closely with the staff preparing the pool study while developing relevant chapters of the draft GEIS. If a final version of the study is published before the final waste confidence GEIS, the staff will incorporate a reference to it in the final GEIS.

These four documents represent two distinct NRC efforts on one very important subject: the safe storage of spent fuel and its environmental impacts. We look forward to your comments on the draft spent fuel pool study now, and on the waste confidence proposed rule and draft environmental study in the fall.

Astounding and (Perhaps) Little Known Facts about the NRC and Radioactive Materials: Part I

Brenda Akstulewicz
Regulatory Information Conference Assistant

We compiled these “factoids” for the Regulatory Information Conference, held in March 2013, based on input from throughout the NRC. Conference attendees found these little known bits of history and trivia interesting. We hope you do, too!

astronaut2 The NRC’s first Chairman, Bill Anders, was an astronaut on Apollo 8’s mission to the moon.

• In the 1930s, a failed experiment by a Swiss physicist for detecting gas using a radioactive source led to the discovery of smoke detectors when the scientist lit a cigarette and the detector registered a reaction. The NRC approved 70 different smoke detector designs in 2012.

• It is estimated if only one NRC technical reviewer did each design certification application review, it would take 32 years to complete the review.

lightening• Some lightning rods contain Radium-226 to make them more effective.

• Inspectors from Region IV get a lot of frequent flier miles. They review activities in remote locations such as Guam, Saipan and the northern reaches of Alaska, among other locations.

• NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, and the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards are all mandated by Congress.

• With six sites and 11 operating reactors, Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any other state.illinois

• The NRC was the first federal agency to give the public electronic access to all of its public documents through the groundbreaking system known as ADAMS (Agencywide Documents Access and Management System).

• Currently, 59 domestic and 76 foreign organizations use MELCOR, NRC’s system-level severe accident analysis code.

• Currently, 31 licensed research and test reactors are in the United States. The majority belong to colleges or universities.

• The final safety evaluation report for the ESBWR design certification document contains about 3,800 pages.

vet• The fastest growing use of nuclear materials in medicine is for diagnostic and cancer treatment procedures in veterinary medicine. NRC inspectors review the use of these materials in veterinary clinics.

Watch for more next week!

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