Appreciating a “Thumbs-Up” From Our Overseas Peers

Jennifer Uhle
Deputy Director
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

It’s always great to hear people use words such as “effective,” “exemplary” and even “inspiration” to describe the job you’re doing. It’s even better when those people are your international peers, talking about such topics as the NRC’s response to the March 2011 Fukushima accident.

IAEA_404Five senior nuclear regulators from Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, along with International Atomic Energy Agency staff, just spent a week examining our work. This Integrated Regulatory Review Service team is part of an IAEA program that independently reviews a country’s nuclear regulator. We greatly appreciate their putting so much time and effort into the visit. I oversaw the agency’s responses to the team, and I’m proud of how our staff earned such high marks.

The IRRS report talks a lot about our Fukushima work. It also discusses our response to a 2010 IRRS visit that looked in detail at how the NRC regulates nuclear power plants. The team reviewed our immediate response to the accident. They then looked at our ongoing effort to enhance U.S. reactor safety based on what the accident taught us. They concluded the NRC has “acted promptly and effectively … in the interests of the public health and safety in both the U.S. and Japan.”

The team said our Near-Term Task Force report was “a source of inspiration for many regulatory bodies worldwide.” They also looked at how we’ve inspected U.S. reactors on Fukushima-related issues. They called that work “exemplary.” We’re honored our approach to learning from Fukushima and acting on that knowledge is so well-respected. We also appreciate their noting there’s still more to do in working all the Fukushima-related changes into our regulations.

We’re pleased that our peers felt the NRC’s efforts have properly answered almost every 2010 recommendation or suggestion about how we oversee nuclear power. They also noted how well we’ve been learning from relevant events in non-nuclear industries. They also suggested we develop a more orderly process for a U.S. reactor to move from operation to decommissioning. We can always get better as an agency, so we’re going to see how best we can work on that suggestion.

The NRC understands how valuable peer review is, so we’ll continue to support IRRS missions worldwide. We’ll also work with the IAEA to see how additional visits to the U.S. might fit into our future schedule.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

20 thoughts on “Appreciating a “Thumbs-Up” From Our Overseas Peers”

  1. A thumbs-up or thumbs-down is a common hand gesture achieved by a closed fist held with the thumb extended upward or downward in approval or disapproval, respectively. Very informative post . keep posting such helpful blog.

  2. The massive earth quake knocked down many large power towers which also affected on site backup power systems and also shattered many critical piping connections which started leaking core and steam turbine coolant which then set off radiation alarms!

  3. To the Moderator: It is a sad state of affairs that the NRC does not even have an on going public outreach program to get as much input as possible to help determine the lowest cost method to store nuclear waste!

    BTW, I have spoken to the Director
    Division of Waste Management & Environmental Protection of the NRC about storing Nuclear Waste and at this time there is no approved method to transport or store long term used high burn up fuel rods yet they are in use!

    I question that it is the only the DoE’s problem; in fact I believe that there should be a multi-Agency task force on dealing with nuclear waste and if there is not one at this time then one should be created ASAP.

  4. Meltdown: What Really Happened at Fukushima?

    The authors have spoken to several workers at the plant who recite the same story: Serious damage to piping and at least one of the reactors before the tsunami hit. All have requested anonymity because they are still working at the plant or are connected with TEPCO. One worker, a maintenance engineer in his late twenties who was at the Fukushima complex on March 11, recalls hissing and leaking pipes. “I personally saw pipes that came apart and I assume that there were many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There’s no doubt that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant,” he said. “There were definitely leaking pipes, but we don’t know which pipes – that has to be investigated. I also saw that part of the wall of the turbine building for Unit 1 had come away. That crack might have affected the reactor.”

    A second worker, a technician in his late 30s, who was also on site at the time of the earthquake, narrated what happened. “It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes, I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall. Others snapped. I was pretty sure that some of the oxygen tanks stored on site had exploded but I didn’t see for myself. Someone yelled that we all needed to evacuate and I was good with that. But I was severely alarmed because as I was leaving I was told and I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn’t get to the reactor core. If you can’t sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down. You don’t have to have to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out.”

    Before the dawn on March 12, the water levels at the reactor began to plummet and the radiation began rising. Meltdown was taking place. The TEPCO Press release issued on March 12 just past 4am stated, “the pressure within the containment vessel is high but stable.” There was a note buried in the release that many people missed. “The emergency water circulation system was cooling the steam within the core; it has ceased to function.”

    Oddly enough, while TEPCO later insisted that the cause of the meltdown was the tsunami knocking out emergency power systems, at the 7:47 p.m. TEPCO press conference the same day, the spokesman in response to questions from the press about the cooling systems stated that the emergency water circulation equipment and reactor core isolation time cooling systems would work even without electricity.

  5. Indeed it is in their mission statement to promote nuclear. Hard to think we get honesty in the face of accidents.

  6. CaptD, great and creative thinking, and all this casking work will be a real economic shot in the arm and a source of work for those from the closing nuclear industry.

    However, spent fuel is a hot potato that no one wants to touch, so here we are, at grave risk to environmental disaster (storm, flood, Carrington) or terrorist attack.

  7. Stock
    Posted on 10/26/12
    I’ve already suggested that the NRC offer a Million Dollar Prize for the best way to “solve” the nuclear waste storage problem” for the next 50 years, so please consider this idea as my “low cost” solution to America’s “long term” radioactive waste storage problem:

    Make use of our Military Testing Bases and or our MOA’s (Military Operation Area’s) out west, which are really huge tracts of land (think tens of thousands of acres) used ONLY by the military and already secured by them 24/7!

    Placing these very large (heavy) concrete casks in a poke-a-dot pattern will allow for at least 50 to 100 years of storage, safe from everything except a War, (in which case every reactor is just as vulnerable) and then revisit the storage problem then; at which time, probably a future solution will allow for an even better, lower cost “final solution”…

    Because these casks would be very large and all look alike nobody would know what was in any one of them, which would be yet another level of security for the casks containing even higher levels of nuclear waste! An ideal outside coating for these casks would be similar to the spray-on “bed liner” used for pickup trucks that not only prevents rusting and or damage for the life of the vehicle but would also seal the casks to prevent leakage of any kind!

    Hopefully these casts would be similar in size to a large shipping container so that existing material handling equipment could be used to load, unload and or move them about without “inventing” a mega hauler vehicle. By keeping the “footprint” of these casks similar to a large 40 foot container, the stacking and or placement of them might also be semi or fully automated which would not only save money but again keep the exact location of any specific cask secret! The monitoring of these casks 24/7/365 could even be done via satellite since these casks are similar in size to rocket launchers which are easily seen from space.

    In another 50 to 100 years, storage technology will be such that, yet another lower cost solution for all this waste will be found, and then it can be considered verses continuing to using the above storage plan… Perhaps sometime In the future, a safe low cost solution like lifting it all into space via a space elevator* and then shoving it into an orbit that will send it into the SUN for final recycling will present itself…

    BTW: Area 51 (which does not even exist officially) contains huge tracts of land that has already been used as a nuclear testing site (and is still contaminated and is now off limits to all but a few forever) would allow all this material to effectively disappear…

    * The Space Elevator Project (LiftPort) is something that the NRC should help fund ASAP, because it represents the best way to actually eliminate storing nuclear waste on Earth!

  8. Stock, I’m happy to report that almost all of the info is available since San Onofre whistle blowers have decided that going public is far more important to the safety of the Country than retaining their identity from the public. These detailed technical documents have been sent in many formats to not only the Chairman and many within the NRC but also to all those that oversee the NRC’s activities!

  9. YES to most of the comments!

    I’d like to add that now that the Japanese Gov’t. is responsible for their ongoing Fukushima radioactive pollution debacle and since they now have decided that they also want nuke weapons, I’d suggest that the Japanese be added to the list of countries that are not friendly to others, especially since the Japanese are now stirring their neighbors up against China.

    If one looks at Fukushima as nothing but a nuclear ransom event (aka like the Somali pirates) then Japan thumbing their nose at the World’s offers for assistance becomes quite a difficult “pill” to swallow!

    I’d also suggest that most readers realize that the IAEA is nothing but the official cheerleaders for the nuclear industry, so them doing anything besides promotion is just NOT going to happen! Sure, they can sometimes inspect and smile for staged photos and even issue big reports but that is all they accomplish, that is beside their primary function which is to protect the nuclear industry at all costs…

  10. Good point, since the IAEA is kind of evil in the way they control the ability of the WHO World Health Organization to speak the truth about radiation, why the heck would we want them even in a minor way, reviewing our nuclear programs.

  11. This diatribe is tongue in cheek but I think there is some truth in it so here goes…
    The IAEA should stay out of our nuclear business. They are not allowed to mess with the Israelis and should not be allowed to mess with the US. The US and other members of NATO with nuclear capabilities should have the same exemption. IAEA efforts should be aimed at rogue nations only, Iran, Russia, & N Korea especially. NATO members are above reproach and do not pose any threat to others. This is because our President and other leaders of the free world are above reproach. We have not and will not threaten others very existence. It’s just a case of recognizing the good guys from the evil ones. ‘What is good for the goose is good for the gander’ does not apply in this case.
    Also it is a matter of national sovereignty. We in no way want a world body threatening our country. The IAEA is just a puppet of the UN. The UN has already tried to take away our right to keep and bear arms. They cannot be trusted.
    So maybe the best solution is to dissolve both the IAEA and the UN. We would save a lot of money. Also Israel could continue to be our hit man in the world. Iran will not get the bomb only because Israel will not allow it. The UN and its puppets have failed to keep the peace and are impotent and worthless organizations.

  12. Visualize how good it would feel to have the people who pay your salary through utility rates, the people you are mandated to serve and protect…..visualize how good it would feel to have 340,000,000 people thinking that you are serving them correctly, with your well paid jobs on the sweat of our brow.

  13. CaptD, the information is not readily available, but methinks the shutdown of the plant may have been negotiated in part by agreeing not to civilly or criminally prosecute the participants who knowlingly and willingly broke the regulations and the laws. If so good riddance, and I would have hoped the NRC had enough steadfastness to at least make sure that the “not proven guilty” parties also agreed to never work in the nuclear industry again, or they will just unleash their hijinks on us again.

  14. The purpose of this mission was to review the NRC’s progress and actions in response to the over 20 combined recommendations and suggestions that the IAEA identified during its original mission in 2010, so I wouldn’t expect them to come up with a whole lot of new findings during this mission…

  15. I’d be far more interested in learning about how all these Regulators rate the NRC’s ability to investigate problems with the NRC’s enforcement of current regulations!

    Case in point, many have provided detailed documentation about San Onofre’s replacement steam generator debacle which occurred 01/31/12 to many within the NRC including the Chairman and to date their have been no fines, or other factual disclosures made by the NRC that point to the causes of that debacle. Additionally as far as I know the NRC has still failed to provide Senator Boxers EPW NRC Oversight Comm. with the requested complete set of documents relating to the design and operational problems which occurred at San Onofre that they requested a long time ago!

    Patting other Regulators on the back for a job well done is one thing but NOT providing answers that may very well affect part of and/or the entire US nuclear fleet is quite another!

    As the NRC should know, when it come to Nuclear Safety getting timely answers to important technical/operational questions is Job #1.

  16. Back slapping among your peers are feel good moments.
    Stating NRC acted “promptly & effectively in the interest of public health & safety” is an over-statement given no widespread monitoring is in place, or if it is, public has yet to be properly notified of Fukushima radiation levels & safety precautions.
    Public was not warned of original Fukushima plume & is still waiting for seafood monitoring to be made highly visual to protect health & safety.
    US government’s response to Fukushima’s radiation increase, raise legally allowable limits. How convenient to avoid facing reality of increasing cancer & birth defects rates.
    Goverment’s positioning in not wanting to panic general populace protects no one.
    We are adults, we can make infomed decisions with honest data.

  17. It is most interesting to note that the only suggestion this international organization mentioned was with regard to facilitating the transition of nuclear plants from operation to decommissioning. Not a word about moving forward faster on building new nuke plants or taking care of our huge high level radioactive waste stockpiles. Beware of praise from the international community. May be a sure sign we are on the wrong track.

  18. Many US citizens will join in this praise when the NRC gets on the program of removing the most dangerous material on earth, from on top of the most dangerous machine on earth, and not letting it sit there for decades on end.

    I speak of the spent fuel being stored at the reactors “for convenience”. Everything over 5 years should be dry casked immediately for mutliple benefits, including national and local security, and the economic shot in the arm of doing so. Also as plants close down, this will be the perfect transitional job for those losing jobs at the plants.

    We all live on borrowed time until we address the spent fuel, and waiting on the dreamland of the safe single repository is a weak excuse for doing nothing. Get on it, and God speed to ye.

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