Writing Rules on Lessons Learned From Fukushima

Timothy Reed
Project Manager
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

The NRC is moving forward in making permanent some of the lessons we’ve learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The Commission has directed the staff to seek public comments on a draft proposed rule for mitigating “beyond-design-basis events,” which can be stronger than a plant’s design anticipates.

The Commission made a few changes to the proposed rule, which consolidates several of the most safety significant recommendations of the NRC’s task force report from shortly after the events at Fukushima.

One of the Commission’s changes involves Severe Accident Management Guidelines, or SAMGs, which a plant would use in responding to very unlikely accidents. The Commission directed that the plants will continue implementing those guidelines voluntarily. Each plant will document a commitment to keep their SAMGs up to date and integrate SAMGs with other emergency response guidelines.  The NRC will provide periodic oversight of SAMGs through its Reactor Oversight Process. Another Commission change to the proposed rule removes proposed design requirements for new reactor applicants. Instead, the new reactors would be subject to the same performance-based criteria that applies to the currently-licensed fleet.

The proposed rule would apply the requirements of two existing orders, Mitigation Strategies (EA-12-049) and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation (EA-12-051), to any operating or future U.S. nuclear power plant. The Mitigation Strategies Order ensures that if a plant loses power, it will have sufficient procedures, strategies, and equipment to indefinitely cool the reactor core and spent fuel, as well as protect the reactor’s containment. The Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation Order requires the plants to ensure they can monitor spent fuel pool water levels. These two orders are already being implemented across the nuclear fleet.

The proposed rule addresses other task force recommendations by:

  • Establishing standards that ensure plants smoothly transition between different emergency procedures, keeping the plants’ overall strategies coherent and comprehensive;
  • Enhancing emergency response requirements so sites can address events involving more than one reactor or a reactor and spent fuel pool;
  • Requiring training, drills and exercises on the new capabilities;
  • Improving onsite and offsite communication, and
  • Ensuring sites have enough staff to address a multi-reactor event

The rule also incorporates information from the plants’ reevaluated earthquake and flooding hazards. Each plant’s mitigation strategies used to meet the rule’s requirements must remain available in the face of the reevaluated hazards.

The staff expects to provide a proposed final rule to the Commission in December 2016.  The NRC staff expects the rule, if approved, would be effective approximately two years later, with the exact date varying from plant to plant. Although that may seem far away, keep in mind much of the rule is already required by the two orders. Nearly all U.S. plants will comply with those orders by the end of 2016. Safety is being enhanced well before the final rule.

The public can comment on the draft proposed rule until Feb. 11, 2016. To view the proposed rule or submit comments, go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRC-2-14-0240. You may also e-mail comments to Rulemaking.Comments@nrc.gov. The staff is also planning a public meeting during the comment period, and we’ll post the meeting notice on our public website. We look forward to hearing from you. (Just a note, comments to this blog post are not considered official NRC communication. Please use the other methods above if you wish your comments to be formally considered.)