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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Fort Calhoun: Heat-Up, But Not Start Up

Lara Uselding
Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

Following a two-and-a-half year shutdown, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) is ready to heat up Fort Calhoun’s reactor coolant system to inspect for any leaks. Heat-up is not the same as restarting the plant. The plant has been shut down since April 2011 for a refueling outage. The outage was extended due to historic Missouri River flooding followed by an electrical fire and other restart complications.

Fort Calhoun Station is heating up the reactor coolant system to ensure that the pipes carrying high pressure water or steam do not have leaks. Rather than heating up the reactor using the fission process, OPPD will use the reactor coolant pumps to heat up water and get steam flowing through the system. NRC inspectors are on site to observe licensee activities as well as perform independent inspections to ensure there are no leaks.

In early October, OPPD submitted a license amendment request seeking NRC permission to use a different methodology to evaluate high-pressure pipe breaks. OPPD has to demonstrate that if a high pressure pipe ruptures, that it would not negatively impact nearby equipment.

On Oct. 25, after reviewing public comments and additional information provided by the licensee, NRC approved this license amendment. OPPD did plant modifications and has performed calculations that show a potential pipe rupture will not affect nearby equipment. NRC inspectors are independently verifying the licensee’s analysis and modifications.

In addition, the staff has finalized its review of OPPD’s request to be exempt from the NRC’s fatigue rule which sets work hour limits in support of plant heat-up activities. The NRC’s fatigue rule puts limits on certain workers’ weekly hours to protect against fatigue. For example, during a refueling outage, a worker is allowed to work up to 72 hours every week versus an average of 54 hours over six weeks.

Before the NRC issued the exemption, the staff ensured that workers will have sufficient time to rest prior to working additional hours in support of the heat-up activities.

In addition, the NRC is continuing independent review of the remaining restart checklist items.

Next steps include preparations for the next public meeting whereby staff will update the public on NRC’s oversight status. No decision about restart will be made at that meeting.

Sandy’s One-Year Anniversary Serves as A Reminder

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of one of the worst coastal storms in U.S. history. Hurricane Sandy made landfall just north of Atlantic City and left billions of dollars in damages in its wake. A year later, impacted areas of New Jersey and New York are continuing efforts to recover from the pounding the storm delivered.

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the devastation the storm brought to neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast.

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the devastation the storm brought to neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast.

The NRC focused on the safety of nuclear power plants in the storm’s path as Sandy bore down on the region, dispatching additional inspectors to augment the resident inspectors at some of the potentially affected sites to provide for 24-hour coverage. In addition, the agency shifted to an elevated response mode that involved the activation of the Incident Response Centers in our Region I and II offices, and the Operations Center at our Headquarters office.

Throughout the event, the NRC also worked closely with state, county and federal partners, including FEMA.

As the storm struck, the plant closest to the eye of the hurricane, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, was shut down at the time but nonetheless had to cope with flooding conditions at its water intake structure and a temporary loss of off-site power. Three other reactors, meanwhile, either shut down or were knocked out of service by the storm’s effects.

At no time was the safety of these plants or others in the Northeast compromised, reflecting the high level of training for their operators, the hardened nature of the structures at the sites and preparations leading up to the storm’s arrival.

Still, there are always lessons to be learned from such events. For many nuclear power plants, the storm has led to a fresh evaluation of severe weather guidelines. These guidelines cover such areas as when a plant needs to begin powering down when wind speeds associated with a severe storm begin to impact a facility.

As for the NRC, we continue to assess the ability of plants to withstand severe flooding as part of our post-Fukushima reviews. Each plant is required to complete a flooding hazard re-evaluation to confirm the appropriateness of the hazards assumed for the site and the ability to protect against them.

Plant owners are required to use updated methods and information, with the results determining whether any additional regulatory actions are needed. More information on the NRC’s post-Fukushima reviews is available on the agency’s website.

Thus far, 2013 has seen low levels of hurricane activity, but Sandy will stand as a powerful reminder of the need for vigilance when it comes to storm preparations.

Reducing Proliferation Risks AND Healing the Sick

Steve Lynch
Project Manager
Research and Test Reactor Licensing Branch

It’s a little known fact: One of the most useful radioisotopes in medicine comes mainly from highly enriched uranium (HEU), the very stuff that can be turned into a nuclear weapon. We’re talking about technicium-99m, or Tc-99m—which has been called the world’s most important medical isotope. It’s used to diagnose a variety of illnesses in millions of procedures each year in the United States alone.

Tc-99m is created from another radioisotope, molybdenum-99, which traditionally has been produced abroad from HEU sources. A stethoscopesupply shortage that delayed patient treatments several years ago, coupled with the desire to reduce proliferation risks, prompted the world community to find better ways of securing the future supply of this isotope.

In 2012, Congress passed the American Medical Isotope Production Act to support private efforts to develop medical radioisotope production facilities using other methods and begin phasing out the export of HEU for medical isotope production. The National Nuclear Security Administration, through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative, has been promoting domestic Mo-99 production using different technologies through formal cooperative agreements with four commercial partners.

These partners and several other companies have said they are interested in producing Mo-99 in the U.S. They have proposed using several different technologies, ranging from non-power reactors to accelerator-driven, sub critical solution tanks. To support the transition to new technologies, the NRC is preparing to receive and review applications for construction permits and operating licenses for new facilities. In fact, we are now reviewing the first medical radioisotope production facility construction permit application, received earlier this year.

But not all Mo-99 production facilities will need an NRC license. While reactors fall strictly under NRC regulation, accelerator technologies that do not use enriched uranium or plutonium would be regulated by the states.

Companies, facilities and technicians involved in producing and administering Tc-99m to patients may also need to be licensed by either the NRC or an Agreement State. (There are 37 Agreement States, which have formal agreements with the NRC allowing them to regulate certain nuclear materials, including medical isotopes).

For more information on the role of the NRC and other agencies in regulating the medical use of nuclear materials, visit the NRC webpage.

Kara Mattioli also contributed to this post.

New dates for Illinois and California Waste Confidence public meetings

Keith I. McConnell
Director, Waste Confidence Directorate
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

With the government shutdown now behind us, we’ve been working to get five important Waste Confidence meetings rescheduled.  If you recall, meetings to talk about the proposed new Waste Confidence rule and draft generic environmental impact statement were planned in San Luis Obispo and Carlsbad, Calif., and Oak Brook, Ill., and scheduled Oct. 7, 9 and 24 respectively. With the shutdown we had to postpone these and two other meetings.

We’re pleased to say that most of the meetings are now rescheduled. The Oak Brook meeting is now set for Tuesday, Nov. 12. The one in Carlsbad will take place on Monday, Nov. 18, and the one in San Luis Obispo will be on Wednesday, Nov. 20. The starting times and locations for these three meetings are unchanged.

Please see the Waste Confidence Directorate’s Public Involvement webpage for meeting times, locations, and how to register to attend the meetings.

The Waste Confidence Directorate is still working on rescheduling meetings originally scheduled for Oct. 15 in Perrysburg, Ohio, and Oct. 17 in Minnetonka, Minn. We expect to make an announcement about new dates for those meetings early next week.

From the Chairman: Getting Back to Work

Allison Macfarlane 
Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

With the government shutdown over, at the NRC we are back in business and getting back up to speed with our work. We want to welcome back our thousands of employees who endured the furlough and thank those who kept the mission essential functions of the NRC operating during this period.

There are many questions to be answered in the coming days, such as when will various meetings we had to postpone be rescheduled, and so on. We are working as rapidly as possible to get answers to those questions and encourage you to check our public meetings page  for the latest information. We are lifting the suspension on adjudications.

The Waste Confidence meetings seeking public input on this important topic resume their regular schedule the week of Oct. 28.

A great deal of our important work has gone undone over the past week or so. We recognize it will take some time to get us back to normal – to catch up with the mail, to reschedule meetings, rebook travel and plow through the in-basket. While we all want to be back to normal quickly, we need to work through the backlog in a careful and deliberate manner. It will take us a few days to get services such as our website caught up.

Thank you for your patience and it’s good to be back.

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