U.S. NRC Blog

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Making Recent Safety Enhancements Part of the NRC Routine

Stephen G. Burns
Chairman

The NRC has made great strides to enhance U.S. nuclear power plants’ already robust safety measures in the five years since the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident. We took swift action after the accident in 2011, ordering a variety of upgrades to plant safety. Now we’re to the point of incorporating this work into our ongoing inspection and oversight processes.

NRC Chairman Stephen Burns (right) stands with Jim Meister, Vice President for Operations Support, Exelon Generation, in front of portable equipment at the Braidwood nuclear plant. The equipment was purchased after Fukushima.

NRC Chairman Stephen Burns (right) stands with Jim Meister, Exelon’s Vice President for Operations Support, near new portable equipment at the Braidwood nuclear plant.

A key lesson from the accident was that plants must be prepared for events not contemplated when they were designed and constructed. Plants’ strategies to address external events must be flexible enough to deal with variety of circumstances.

Substantial progress has been made towards completing NRC-directed upgrades to address this lesson. Plants are far better prepared for severe events now than they were in 2011.

About half of U.S. commercial reactors have completed integrating portable pumps, generators and other resources and procedures to maintain key safety functions. By the end of the year we expect every U.S. plant to have the physical resources. Almost all the plants will have all their procedures available, and the rest will have most procedures ready to go. The industry also has two national rapid response centers up and running in Phoenix and Memphis with portable equipment that can be dispatched within 24 hours to anywhere in the country if additional help is needed.

More than three quarters of the plants have completed installing equipment to better monitor their spent fuel pools, and we expect every U.S. plant to finish that work by the end of the year. The bulk of the remaining safety-significant work should be done in 2017.

I’ve personally been to nearly a dozen plants since becoming Chairman and have seen first-hand the work that has been done at these sites. The operators of the plants have taken this work very seriously and the amount of equipment purchased and plant modifications made is quite impressive. Equally impressive is the thoroughness reflected in the procedures and training developed to make sure their people are ready and able to spring into action should the worst happen.

The NRC’s requests for U.S. plants to re-examine earthquakes and flooding hazards are also bearing fruit. Every plant has updated its understanding of potential earthquakes at its site. A quarter of the plants have finished their earthquake-related work. The rest are looking at whether their new quake hazard affects risks to a plant’s ability to safely shut down.

While improving flooding hazard information has proven more complex, more than half of the plants have updated their understanding of flooding sources. All the plants will continue examining any risk changes due to revised flooding estimates.

Our next step is to inspect the work that’s been done and to ensure the plants maintain all of that progress. We’re adapting our inspections and other processes to cover these enhancements. We’ve given our Resident Inspectors the handbook for the first of these inspections, in this case looking at the newly integrated portable equipment and resources. The first of those checks was done a few days ago. We’re also updating our assessment process for inspection findings to cover the post-Fukushima upgrades.

Moving examination of these upgrades into our everyday oversight ensures we – and the plants – are vigilant in maintaining this important progress. Our onsite inspectors will keep a constant eye on these upgrades, with help as needed from our regional and headquarters staff.

The NRC has met the challenges raised by the Fukushima accident promptly while maintaining day-to-day safe plant operations. We’ll work hard every day to make certain plants also stay focused on maintaining the progress we’ve made.

14 responses to “Making Recent Safety Enhancements Part of the NRC Routine

  1. David Andersen March 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Anonymous:
    1)
    Upon inspection after the leak occurred, both replacement steam generators in Unit 2 and in Unit 3 were found to have had more tube damage than the rest of the entire US Nuclear Reactor “Fleet” combined*, yet SCE did not even have a clue that anything was amiss in either Unit 3 or Unit 2, until the leak occurred.
    1 My Response)
    SCE identified the leakage while it was still far below the Technical Specification limit and chose to conservatively shut down to investigate the leakage.

    2)
    Left unsaid is that SCE also ran Unit 3 over its NRC approved “redline” limitations (to generate more steam/profits) because they thought it was built better, which is what caused the leak that ultimately brought down both Unit 2 and Unit 3.

    2 my response)
    Not sure what you mean by NRC approved “Redline” limit, but I assume that you are implying that they were exceeding Licensed Thermal Power. Though I don’t know for sure, but speaking as a previously licensed senior reactor operator I doubt that the operators would operate the plant in such a manner.

    3)
    This makes what happened very SCARY, if you know anything about Nuclear Reactors and their Steam Generators.

    3 my response)
    I know a great deal about Nuclear reactors, and while what happened was unfortunate I will emphasize that the operators took conservative actions to shut the plants down upon discovery of the leakage.

    3)
    In non-engineering speak, San Onofre could have had a double meltdown (like Fukushima’s triple meltdown) if a major earthquake had occurred while Unit 2 and Unit 3 were operating at full power, if more than a few of the tubes failed that were in the four steam generators (which each had 9,727 tubes inside them). Multiple tube failures could have easily resulted in uncovering the reactor core of Unit 2 and/or Unit 3 in a matter of minutes, no matter what those in the control room tried to do to prevent it, especially since the two reactors are so close together physically!

    3 my response
    In non-engineering speak, nonsense! The Emergency Core Cooling System is fully capable of maintain the core cooling in the event of multiple tube failures. Operators receive a great deal of training on combating just such occurrences. The reactors being located close together has no bearing on their ability to handle a steam generator tube failure.

    • drbillcorcoran March 17, 2016 at 6:02 am

      • Dysfunctional Priorities

      An inescapable fact is that the competent investigation of every harmful event reveals that the causation of the harm includes the dysfunctional prioritization of something conflicting with integrity / compliance/quality/ safety / security by multiple individuals, entities, groups, and organizations.

      These include regulatory agencies, oversight agencies, auditing entities, trade organizations, professional societies, standards making bodies, labor organizations, governmental/ industrial/ commercial entities, investors, securities rating agencies, management, facilities, vessels, and individual contributors.

      “Incentives undermine ethical motives.” Economist Samuel Stebbins Bowles

      “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”-Stephen R. Covey

      “When you’re up to your navel in alligators it’s hard to remember that you were sent in to drain the swamp”-An old engineering saying.

      Caution: The existence of each dysfunctional priority resulted from deeper harmful underlying conditions, behaviors, actions, and/or inactions and thus is usually not a “root cause.”

      Observation: The desire to avoid regulatory review cost Southern California Edison and/or its customers $2 billion or more and embarrassed the already under fire regulators.

  2. Patricia Borchmann March 13, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    The extensive NRC accomplishments identified by NRC Chairman Burns in this report appear large, but the list is inconsistent with 5-year Anniversary of Fukishima reports also recently released by notable independent nuclear experts outside the industry, including Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Beyond Nuclear, and NIRS. Reports by credible independent experts generally differ drastically from conclusions drawn by Chairman Burns, about performance capabilities of nuclear reactors in United States, and emergency preparedness based on “post- Fukishima Lessons Learned” analysis and major investment in equipment upgrades, and planning sequences for completion on issues where additional data is necessary (i.e., flooding, and seismic risks).
    Viewers are encouraged to review reports prepared by the specific groups by visiting websites for those organizations. To briefly summarize, reports prepared by independent experts generally found that “Five (5) Years After Fukishima, U.S. Nuclear Safety Upgrades Lagging” (Huffington Post, published 03 10 16).
    Excerpts from that article indicated the following:
    “NRC set up a task force to analyze what happend at Fukishima and assess how to make U.S. reactors safer. In July 2011, the task force offered a dozen specific recommendations to help saeguard US nuclear plants in the event of a Fukishima-scale accident. Unfortunately NRC has since rejected or significantly weakened many of those recommendations and has yet to fully implement the reforms it did adopt, according to Union of Concerned Scientists report. UCS also found the agency abdicated its responsibility as nations nuclear watchdog by allowing the industry to routinely rely on voluntary guidelines, which are by their very nature, unenforceable.
    Although the NRC and nuclear industry have devoted considerable resources to address post-Fukishima task force recommendations, they haven’t done all they should to protect the public from a similar disaster. If NRC is serious about protecting the public and plant workers, it should reconsider a number of recommendations it scrapped under pressure from the industry and its supporters in Congress”. The Huffington Post article contains additional sections outlining “Half-baked reforms”, reliance on NRC’s vaguely worded “backfit” rule to reject many other recommended post-Fukishima upgrades, “Letting the Industry Make the Rules”, and “Saying No to Filtered Vents”. .

    Besides myself, there are millions of other public Stakeholders who live in communities surrounding nearly 100 reactors in United States who are extremely disturbed and dissatisfied by the failure by the nation’s only regulatory agency with authority to fully develop and apply regulations necessary to protect public health and safety to perform that duty. The NRC Commissions decisions to forego many meaningful safety recommendations by that task force was irresponsible, and reckless. The FLEX Program investments to stage emergency equipment at two locations in U.S. is not nearly adequate to protect vulnerable stakeholders during emergency events, especially if concurrent events threatened reactors in multiple locations where flooding risks and seismic risks have increased dramatically during recent years, due to climate change, fracking practices by oil and gas industry, or countless other threats where reactors are unequipped, and plant operators are not sufficiently prepared, trained, or equipped to respond. These concerns are not new. In fact, many active stakeholders were actively involved years ago during earlier public review of the Fukishima White Paper in draft forms, and prepared credible comments/concerns which were dismissed. Many of these active stakeholders are still extremely dissatisfied, and disturbed by comments just released by NRC Chairman Burns, regarding the current status of emergency preparedness at United States reactors, and to say I am still skeptical is an enormous understatement.
    Besides the recent 2.206 Petition filed by seven (7) of NRC’s own engineers, the credible concerns of the same experts outside the industry have been routinely dismissed, or marginalized without sufficient evidence that significant safety margin degradations have not resulted.

    • Engineer-Poet March 14, 2016 at 11:51 pm

      the list is inconsistent with 5-year Anniversary of Fukishima reports also recently released by notable independent nuclear experts outside the industry, including Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Beyond Nuclear, and NIRS.

      You’re asking us to believe that it’s just a coincidence that all of these organizations are (a) rabidly anti-nuclear and (b) probably financed by fossil-associated donors and their foundations.  In other words, they are not independent at all; they are fronts for the competition.

      Reports by credible independent experts generally differ drastically from conclusions drawn by Chairman Burns

      Reports by credible independent experts say there will be no discernable health consequences from the Fukushima radiation releases, among other conclusions.  Meanwhile, emissions from fossil plants kill hundreds of thousands and climate change threatens billions.

      Radiophobia has a large death toll in Japan alone; 2911 deaths in Fukushima prefecture came from the evacuation, compared to 1603 from the quake and tsunami.  The radiation was harmless, but the phobia killed.

      Besides myself, there are millions of other public Stakeholders who live in communities surrounding nearly 100 reactors in United States who are extremely disturbed and dissatisfied by the failure by the nation’s only regulatory agency with authority to fully develop and apply regulations necessary to protect public health and safety to perform that duty.

      I am also a public stakeholder, and I find that the NRC has erred in the opposite direction:  it has been over-zealous, exerting ever-tightening scrutiny over harmless things while ignoring gross dangers to the public from the energy sources that nuclear power displaces.  Poisonous frac water, airborne toxic leaks and natural gas explosions are just a few of the threats that nuclear power helps to reduce.  The NRC does not weigh these diminished threats in its evaluations, and continues to use the linear no-threshold (LNT) model in its assessment of radiation risks.  This is now known to be an abuse of risk assessment.  If LNT was remotely correct, the populations of Ramsar, Kerala and Guarapari would have massive excesses of cancers.  They have anything but.  Replacement of LNT with a proper threshold risk model would both make nuclear plants cheaper to run and minimize the impact of phobias on public policy.

      Besides the recent 2.206 Petition filed by seven (7) of NRC’s own engineers

      Yes, about that.  The industry has been backfitting its systems for some time already (one engineer’s story part 1, part 2).  What the NRC engineers are doing is elevating the priority of the rule-making, so everything is set down properly.  The safety work will be done regardless.

      the credible concerns of the same experts outside the industry have been routinely dismissed, or marginalized without sufficient evidence that significant safety margin degradations have not resulted.

      The safety concerns of climate scientists and air-quality experts have been marginalized and dismissed since no later than 1958… oh, wait, make that 1956.  Had the post-TMI anti-nuclear paranoia been properly ignored and the projected replacement of coal-fired electricity by nuclear actually gone ahead, we would have neither the climate threat nor the air pollution which the new air-toxics regulations are finally addressing.  All of the mortality and morbidity in the mean time is your responsibility; you have blood on your hands.

  3. CaptD March 11, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    03/11/11 Fukushima is still a Japanese Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster.

    Don’t Pollute the Pacific with Japanese ☢Waste

    Why is the NRC not speaking out about what is happening?

    • Engineer-Poet March 15, 2016 at 12:47 am

      Shame on the moderators for deleting my previous rebuttal to this nonsense.  I failed to save it to repost.  I will not make that mistake again.

      03/11/11 Fukushima is still a Japanese Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster.

      The estimate is $80 billion ($20 for cleanup, $60 for [un-necessary, damaging and useless] evacuations) which is dwarfed by the bill for replacement fossil fuels (on the order of the difference between the previous $50 billion trade surplus and the recent $150 trade deficit… per year).

      All of these reactions, over an industrial accident that has produced no demonstrable permanent harm to anyone.  This is paranoia.

      Don’t Pollute the Pacific with Japanese ☢Waste

      Presumably, you mean releasing the metal-stripped water from the plant basements to the Pacific.  The only thing above background levels left in this water is tritium.  Tritium is essentially harmless except at very high levels.  All the stored Fukushima water could be dumped into the oceans without any detectable effects.

      There are people who simply cannot accept that there won’t be anything harmful from this.  When a Canadian researcher concluded that the levels reaching North America would be trivial and harmless, anti-nuclear activists targeted him with death threats.

      Why is the NRC not speaking out about what is happening?

      First, something must be happening.  If you won’t believe the people who tell you there isn’t, you are somewhere between deluded and paranoid.

      Paranoids need to be sent to mental-health treatment.  There is no other remedy; a non-existent threat has no response.

      • Moderator March 15, 2016 at 8:49 am

        We have emailed you the content from your previous blog comment, which was not posted per the blog comment guidelines related to personal attacks.

        Moderator

      • drbillcorcoran March 15, 2016 at 9:26 am

        For all online commenters:
        Do yourself a favor by composing off-line. Try a word processor or text editor.
        Edit and save before you paste your comment into the blog.

        OBTW: You don’t advance your cause by making vast accusations and allegations based on half vast homework.

  4. drbillcorcoran March 11, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    The Fukushima Investigation is Far From Over

    We still do not have a chronological list of the missed opportunities and the harmfully dysfunctional conditions, behaviors, actions, and inactions together with their impacts on the harmful results.

    What individuals and organizations advised TEPCO to address the safety shortcomings that resulted in the explosions and meltdowns?

    What individuals and organizations advised NISA to require TEPCO to address the safety shortcomings that resulted in the explosions and meltdowns?

    What individuals and organizations had obvious opportunities to have advised TEPCO to address the safety shortcomings that resulted in the explosions and meltdowns, but did not?

    What individuals and organizations had obvious opportunities to have advised NISA to require TEPCO to address the safety shortcomings that resulted in the explosions and meltdowns, but did not?

    After the tsunami what opportunities were there to have prevented the explosions and meltdowns?

    How come Fukushima was apparently designed for the right earthquake, but not for the tsunami that was known to be one of the earthquake’s certain consequences?

    Of all of the upgrades that were necessary after Fukushima, which ones were not necessary before Fukushima? How come?

    There is a group compiling the unanswered questions.

    You may join by sending an email to
    rcsotp_20_fukushima_ltbl_-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

  5. Donna Gilmore March 11, 2016 at 11:51 am

    The NRC staff states there are critical areas of structures and components that cannot be inspected due to inaccessibility. These reactors were engineered for a 40-year lifespan. How can you possibly ensure safe relicensing when you cannot even inspect critical areas of structures and components that are aging and may likely be degrading?

    • Moderator March 11, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Some portions of nuclear power plants, “inaccessible” only because the reactor is operating, are inspected when the reactor is shut off. All areas of the plant, however, are appropriately inspected and maintained to ensure they comply with NRC regulations. Plants are engineered to meet stringent requirements, not for a particular timespan. Any plant applying for a renewed license must satisfy the NRC that the plant can detect and safely account for the aging of systems not already covered by NRC maintenance requirements.

      Scott Burnell

      • Donna Gilmore March 11, 2016 at 4:17 pm

        Who or what is the source of the information in your reply? I recently listened to an NRC technical meeting regarding reactor aging management where they were discussing how they might be able to deal with critical areas they cannot inspect. One idea discussed was to consider assuming if the portion they could see looks good, then just assume the part they cannot see is good. Suggest you start attending the aging management technical meetings on both reactors and spent fuel dry storage. You will learn that aging management wasn’t built into the design of either and there are numerous unresolved issues.

      • Moderator March 14, 2016 at 3:17 pm

        Post-Fukushima enhancements are easily inspected, since new connections or new equipment must be in accessible areas. The meeting you reference was discussing how to improve the already significant requirements of license renewal aging management programs. The programs handle issues such as buried piping through excavating typical portions of buried steel piping to gain insight into the condition of the remainder of the piping. Several plant areas are covered by in-service inspection programs (based on ASME Code Subsections IWE and IWL, and related NRC regulations), which “shall evaluate the acceptability of inaccessible areas when conditions exist in accessible areas that could indicate … degradation.” Structural aging management programs therefore use conditions found in accessible areas to determine the need for managing degradation in inaccessible areas.

        Scott Burnell

      • Anonymous March 13, 2016 at 5:47 pm

        Scott — Another issue all together is that Operators have and still can use the 50.59 process to bypass the public scrutiny which makes these generating stations much less safe as San Onofre proved, since SCE created a multi-billion dollar engineering debacle that their State regulator says the ratepayers should be responsible for. The NRC self review of the 50.59 process was just plain white-washing and/or CYA depending on your point of view, since the operator SCE never even got fined for what they did, destroying 4 almost new replacement steam generators

        Upon inspection after the leak occurred, both replacement steam generators in Unit 2 and in Unit 3 were found to have had more tube damage than the rest of the entire US Nuclear Reactor “Fleet” combined*, yet SCE did not even have a clue that anything was amiss in either Unit 3 or Unit 2, until the leak occurred.

        Left unsaid is that SCE also ran Unit 3 over its NRC approved “redline” limitations (to generate more steam/profits) because they thought it was built better, which is what caused the leak that ultimately brought down both Unit 2 and Unit 3.

        This makes what happened very SCARY, if you know anything about Nuclear Reactors and their Steam Generators.

        In non-engineering speak, San Onofre could have had a double meltdown (like Fukushima’s triple meltdown) if a major earthquake had occurred while Unit 2 and Unit 3 were operating at full power, if more than a few of the tubes failed that were in the four steam generators (which each had 9,727 tubes inside them). Multiple tube failures could have easily resulted in uncovering the reactor core of Unit 2 and/or Unit 3 in a matter of minutes, no matter what those in the control room tried to do to prevent it, especially since the two reactors are so close together physically!

        * http://sanonofresafety.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/steamgeneratortubesplugged1.pdf

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