Chernobyl – Thirty Years Ago Today

2015-6-4 Chornobyl (59)On April 26, 1986, a sudden surge of power during a reactor systems test destroyed Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union. The accident and the fire that followed released massive amounts of radioactive material into the environment.

So starts the NRC backgrounder on accident. Today, exactly three decades later, it’s still an event worth recalling.

Last year, NRC Commissioner William Ostendorff and several NRC staffers, (photo above right) visited the site and saw the progress for containment and decommissioning first hand.

Said Commissioner Ostendorff of his visit: “I was struck by the impact of this tragic accident in 1986, especially by the visit to the abandoned city of Pripyat. I saw first-hand the detailed work underway to more 2015-6-4 Chornobyl (35)permanently contain the damaged reactor for coming generations. I am grateful for the international support to fund the construction of the New Safe Confinement structure.”

The New Safe Confinement construction site can be seen in the photo to the left. The Commissioner’s visit included the construction site for the Dry Type Storage facility. The final completion date for this project is 2064.

As part of their tour, the Commissioner and NRC staff visited the abandoned city of Pripyat, home to an amusement park originally scheduled to open one week after the accident. (see photo below right)

After the accident, 2015-6-4 Prypiat (39)ferriswheelofficials closed off the area within 18 miles of the plant, except for those with official business at the plant and those people dealing with the consequences of the accident and operating the undamaged reactors. The Soviet (and later on, Russian) government evacuated about 115,000 people from the most heavily contaminated areas in 1986, and another 220,000 people in subsequent years.

For more information on the accident, check out this blog post or take a look at this video.

 

Preparing for Advanced Reactors

Deborah Jackson
Deputy Director
Division of Engineering Infrastructure and Advanced Reactors

Before a company gets down to the nuts and bolts of a reactor design, it has to consider the big picture of protecting the public. The NRC lays out this mandate through a combination of regulatory requirements and guidance. “General Design Criteria,” or GDC are a key part of the regulatory requirements. We’re at the point where public input will help us develop Advanced Reactor Design Criteria (ARDC) for tomorrow’s reactors.

The current criteria cover concepts such as protecting against severe natural events and putting multiple barriers between radioactive material and the environment. Designers and operators use that basis for designing, fabricating, building, testing, and operating a reactor’s safety-related equipment. Companies are now considering designs that depart from cooling reactors with water, so the NRC is moving towards properly adapting the GDC.

We’ve been working with the Department of Energy on this since 2013. Our initiative has examined where today’s GDC could apply to advanced designs, and where new or revised criteria make sense. A DOE report from late 2014 (parts one and two) laid out Advanced Reactor Design Criteria, which could fill the GDC role for non-light-water-cooled reactors.

The DOE set out both criteria independent of any specific technology, and specific criteria for reactors cooled by liquid sodium or an inert gas. These ARDC will not be binding requirements.

The NRC picked up the ball by considering existing information on advanced designs, and we’ve asked DOE additional questions while developing draft regulatory guidance on the ARDC. This is the first step in strategically preparing for the review of non-light-water reactor applications.

The preliminary draft of the ARDC will provide stakeholder insight into the NRC staff’s current views on how the GDC could be interpreted to address non-light-water reactor design features. Ultimately, a risk-informed, performance based advanced non-light water reactor regulatory framework is envisioned.

A specific question we’re looking at involves whether NRCs generic criteria are broad enough to cover the spectrum of designs being considered. We’re also asking whether the proposed criteria appropriately address some new concepts described in DOE’s documents.

Public comments, which can also be sent to AdvancedRxDCComments.Resource@nrc.gov, will be accepted through June 8. After we address these initial public comments, a draft regulatory guide will be developed and published in the Federal Register for public comment.