Senior Public Affairs Officer
The importance of paying close attention to what’s different day-to-day led to two recent inspection findings at nuclear power plants in Region I.
Scaffolding is sometimes erected at nuclear plants to allow workers to reach areas or equipment they couldn’t reach otherwise, the same as at other facilities. While walking down the plant last August, the Ginna resident inspector noticed temporary scaffolding was preventing full operation of a sprinkler system. When looking into it further, the inspectors learned workers had not received prior approval by the on-site fire department to block the sprinkler, as required by plant procedures.
After being notified of the finding, the company took immediate action to correct the scaffolding and placed the issue in its corrective action program. However, this was the 13th issue related to scaffolding at Ginna since September 2012 and NRC inspectors documented this performance deficiency in their quarterly inspection report. The resident inspectors will continue to follow the company’s corrective actions to assure they’re effective and comprehensive.
The NRC resident inspectors at Peach Bottom also had an inspection finding related to scaffolding. During an August inspection to ensure that changes made for a Unit 3 refueling outage hadn’t led to any new radiological hazards that could impact the onsite workers, the inspectors found some temporary scaffolding made it possible to access a locked high radiation area.
It seems the scaffolding would have allowed someone to reach a permanent ladder that led to a high radiation area. There also were no signs to alert workers to the radiological conditions despite a requirement that such areas be posted and controlled to avoid unnecessary worker exposure.
Based on the inspectors’ feedback, the company posted workers in the area until it could take more permanent action to prevent access to the area. After more questions by the resident inspectors, the company performed a thorough review of both units (called an extent-of-condition review) and found twelve additional areas that required enhanced controls/postings. An NRC inspection report documented the finding.
These are two good examples of inspectors remaining aware of changing conditions and activities taking place in the plant. It also shows the inspectors asking the important question “have you considered the extent of condition?” This review may uncover a programmatic issue and/or increase the risk significance depending upon the condition of other similar systems, structures or components.
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.
Five 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.