Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of Dam Safety

Ken Karwoski
Dam Safety Officer


damWhile the NRC’s authority is limited to nuclear power plants and other civilian uses of nuclear material, dams play a role in what we regulate. Hydroelectric dams, for example, have supplied backup power for at least one reactor. A few reactors are downstream from various kinds of dams, so keeping the dams safe also helps keep the reactors safe.

We do our part in all this by participating in the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety. The federal government founded the committee in 1980 to help create and maintain effective programs, policies, and guidelines to enhance dam safety and security. FEMA chairs the committee.

The NRC has lots of company on the committee. Other members include:

  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Agricultural Research Service
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Forest Service
  • Department of Energy
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Park Service
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Tennessee Valley Authority

We meet formally at least once every three months to discuss dam safety issues, but committee members work together on issues whenever necessary. For example, the NRC works regularly with FERC to inspect safety-related water retention ponds at a handful of reactor sites and evaporation ponds at two uranium mills. Other interactions included sharing operating experience and research results.

A typical committee meeting involves members providing updates on major dam safety topics, such as proposed changes to federal guidelines or new training. The other members, including the NRC, provide advice and feedback that reflects each organization’s perspective. 

The NRC worked with other committee members related to the flooding hazard re-evaluations all U.S. nuclear power plants have been working on since March 2012, as directed by the NRC following the accident at Fukushima. We asked committee members to review parts of the re-evaluation guidance related to dam failures. The NRC incorporated the committee’s input into the final guidance to nuclear plants.

We’ll continue to discuss the flooding re-evaluation process, including the results where appropriate, as part of the dam safety committee’s ongoing work.

Author: Moderator

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

6 thoughts on “Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of Dam Safety”

  1. The Corps is dam good but keeping critical safety information from the public is just not right. The NRC and the Corps think we cannot handle the truth. A dam failure is a catastrophic event and not releasing info on just how bad it would be for those folks downstream, not just nuke plants, is just, well, it’s just criminal! What other secrets are you keeping from us?!

  2. It is a “dam” shame that the NRC is withholding dam failure results
    This article says the NRC “asked committee members to review parts of the re-evaluation guidance related to dam failures.” The NRC will “continue to discuss the flooding re-evaluation process, including the results where appropriate, as part of the dam safety committee’s ongoing work.”
    The NRC shares “results where appropriate”. The sad thing is they do not share results with the public. The NRC has held several closed meetings with two nuclear plant licensees. These nuclear plants are located downstream from earthen dams on the Missouri River. During these meetings the NRC discussed the results of dam failure analysis on these plants. It is quite obvious that the flooding predicted from dam failure would be catastrophic or the results would be made public. Years ago the NRC calculated that a 46-foot wall of water would engulf the entire Missouri River basin in the event of dam failure. Yet the NRC has refused to share this information with those folks who do have a definite need to know. These would include State, county, and local emergency response organizations all along the Missouri River. It is time for the NRC to put public safety first and release this “damming” information to the public.

  3. NRC doing a great job inded. But need to take some more precautions about Dam safety. Thanks.

  4. The NRC needs to push for “civilians” to be added to the ICoDS, since then all would have to be far more responsive to the public…

    Dams and levee’s offer one of the biggest threats to NPP’s and must be protected from both man and/or Nature.

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