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Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness and Response

Getting Ready for Winter Looks Much Like Preparing for Hurricanes

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

coldweatherAt first glance the blizzard that pounded the upper Midwest on Christmas weekend – or the winter storm that hit New England over New Year’s — doesn’t seem to have much in common with the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast or Eastern Seaboard during the hot summer months.

But from our perspective, they do.

NRC regulations requires that U.S. nuclear power plants be ready for all kinds of weather conditions, and that extends to winter storms.

The preparations take many forms. Here are some of the key activities:

  • Plant operators keep close tabs on approaching storms via weather forecasting services. Storm watches or warnings would clearly attract attention.
  • As a storm draws closer, information gathered from the facility’s meteorological towers is assessed. These data points would include wind speed/direction and snowfall rates. Specific conditions, such as wind speeds exceeding a pre-designated threshold, can result in operators starting to shut down the reactor, or reactors, at a plant site.
  • Prior to a storm arriving in the area, plant personnel would conduct visual inspections of plant grounds. They would check that there were no loose items that could be propelled by strong winds and potentially damage equipment.
  • Workers would also ensure that fuel tanks for emergency diesel generators were filled. These generators can provide back-up power for plant safety systems should the local electrical grid go down.
  • Plans would also be developed to keep the plant appropriately staffed until the storm had passed. This might mean providing cots and food for employees unable to get home due to the weather conditions.

Amid all of these preparations, the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to each plant would follow the progress of these activities while also tracking expected conditions at the plant. They, too, could be asked to stay at the facility until the storm had passed.

The old adage that success is “90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration” is one taken seriously when wicked weather is bearing down.

 

Five Questions with Rick Hasselberg

Rick Hasselberg is a Senior Emergency Response Coordinator with the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response.

  1. How would you briefly describe your role at the NRC?

5 questions_9with boxI manage the NRC’s Reactor Safety Team. If an emergency occurs at a nuclear power plant, my team is responsible for assessing nuclear facility conditions, predicting future conditions, and recommending actions the NRC might take to help protect public health and safety. I am responsible for recruiting, training, and continuously challenging the expertise and response readiness of one of the most respected emergency response organizations in the world.  What could be better than that?

  1. What is your foremost responsibility at work?

I think about emergencies. While 99 percent of the people working at the NRC are working hard to ensure that appropriate safety measures are in place, I work under the assumption that any of those safety measures could possible fail and that it’s time to get busy.  (The more I think about the things that might happen, the less surprised I will be if they do.

  1. What is your most significant challenge in the workplace?

rickh_fixedI struggle with competing demand for the agency’s best and brightest employees.  I must ensure that NRC will able to maintain a pool of experienced, qualified response team members who can be pulled away from their regular duties to train, exercise and, if ever needed, to respond to an actual emergency event.

  1. What do you consider one of your most notable accomplishments at the NRC?

I joined the NRC in late 1979, in the months following the Three Mile Island Accident. During that period, the NRC was under considerable pressure to improve both its internal training programs and its external public information (outreach) programs. I contributed significantly to both programs, introducing multimedia production techniques (film, video, and 35mm slides) for improving internal technical training, and I created and presented a highly acclaimed, day-long Nuclear Power and Radiation seminar that NRC presented to news media representatives throughout the United States. I was credited with helping to re-establish NRC credibility with the news media.

  1. What is one quality of the NRC that more people should know?

This agency has a lot of very smart, very talented people who really care about their role in serving the nation. I’m very proud to serve with them.

Five Questions is an occasional series in which we pose the same questions to different NRC staff members.

 

 

Hurricane Matthew and the NRC — UPDATE Part II

UPDATE 2:  The NRC’s Region II Incident Response Center was staffed throughout the weekend due to Hurricane Matthew. In all, three plants entered unusual event classifications for storm-related reasons, including electrical grid instability. In addition to the update below on the St. Lucie plant, two other plants, Harris and Robinson, experienced brief losses of offsite power due to the effects of the hurricane. At those two sites, the emergency diesel generators started automatically and provided power until the grid stabilized. — Joey Ledford

UPDATE: While our thoughts are with the people who lost power or suffered damages in the storm, the St. Lucie nuclear plant experienced winds below hurricane strength and did not lose off-site power. The plant’s safety equipment and systems were not affected by the storm and both units remain safely shut down pending a “Disaster Initiated Review.” The review will ensure that evacuation routes are clear and emergency services are available. The units cannot restart until that review is conducted jointly by the NRC and FEMA. The NRC continues to monitor Hurricane Matthew, and will decide later today whether to continue to staff its incident response center in Atlanta. — Joey Ledford

Joey Ledford
Public Affairs Officer
Region II

It’s hard to believe, but no major hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States since 2005. Hurricane Wilma came ashore in southwest Florida in October of that year as a Category 3 storm, but then skirted the peninsula and went back into the Atlantic.

pathDuring this record respite of 11 years, the NRC never stopped training and preparing for big storms, including major hurricanes. Storm preparations were an important part of the post-Fukushima enhancements that have made U.S. commercial nuclear plants safer.

This week, a mammoth storm known as Hurricane Matthew is stalking Florida’s East Coast, having already taken its toll on Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas. The NRC and the companies that operate nuclear facilities began preparations for Matthew long before its anticipated path was clear.

Late Tuesday, the staff at Florida Power and Light’s St. Lucie plant in Port St. Lucie, not far from the predicted landfall, declared an unusual event, the lowest of NRC’s emergency classifications, because of the hurricane warning. The plant staff began severe weather procedures, which include making sure any equipment or debris that could be affected by wind or water has been removed or secured. Staff also conducted walk downs of important plant systems and ensured emergency supplies were adequate.

Similar work was being done at Turkey Point, south of Miami, another FPL plant, and at Brunswick, a Duke Energy station near Southport, N.C.

The NRC’s resident inspectors at each plant, meanwhile, worked to verify the storm preparations were completed as expected, paying special attention to the condition of emergency diesel generators that would be used if the plants lose offsite power.

The NRC maintains 24-hour staffing at any plant expected to experience hurricane-force winds. Since the resident inspectors live near the plant and need to take care of their families and homes, other agency personnel are dispatched to storm sites to help with staffing. One resident inspector from Tennessee volunteered to drive to southeastern North Carolina to staff Brunswick. Some other inspectors at or near the plants on other inspection duties volunteered to stay and provide staffing.

The NRC’s Region II Incident Response Center in Atlanta will be staffed around the clock during the storm, monitoring its path while keeping in contact with plant operators, NRC on-site inspectors, state emergency officials in the affected states and NRC headquarters.

Previous hurricanes have shown that nuclear plants are robust facilities that can withstand extremely high winds and storm surges. As Matthew approaches, the NRC is working to ensure plant operators have taken actions to protect the plants, safely shut down if necessary and ensure power is available to keep the plants in a safe condition until the storm has passed.

A Solemn Anniversary

Stephen Burns
Chairman

This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As always, that day is a time for reflection, which the passing years do not diminish. The events of that day still seem as fresh and raw now as they did at the time.

NUREG/BR-0314, Rev. 4, "August 2015 Protecting Our Nation."That was certainly a pivotal day for us as a nation, for us as individuals and us as employees of the NRC. Here, staff went quickly into response mode even as the significance of the day was not yet clear. Senior managers gathered in the Operations Center and at the regional Incident Response Centers; other employees were sent home; security was heightened around the buildings; and licensee facilities were ordered to their highest level of security.

The NRC, like the rest of the country, pulled together and experienced a sense of renewed purpose and affirmation of our values as a democracy. As then Chairman Richard Meserve told employees: These are trying times, but we will persevere.

And we did. In the years since, the NRC increased its focus on security, revised its security inspection program, restructured and enhanced the force-on-force program, strengthened radioactive material controls, updated its Operations Center and exercised regularly for security events in addition to safety events. The NRC responded to the challenge in ways that also still reverberate today and affect nearly everything we do.

The NRC’s excellent publication Protecting our Nation goes into detail about actions the NRC has taken to strengthen security, emergency planning and incident response in the years since. On this anniversary, please take a few moments to read it while we reflect on the tragedy that day still represents for us all.

UPDATED: Hurricanes – And Preparedness — Are In Focus This Month

Update: Over Labor Day weekend, Hermine had minimal impact on nuclear power plants in its path. The Brunswick plant, in North Carolina, temporarily down powered due to a loss of one offsite power line, but no plants in the southeast were forced to shut down and there was no major damage. Nuclear power plants in the northeast fare similarly. The NRC will continue to keep tabs on the storm’s movements with respect to possible impacts on New England nuclear power plants, but for now it appears they will not experience the kinds of wind speeds that could prompt operators to consider reducing power or shutting down a reactor. Roger Hannah and Neil Sheehan

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

The NRC joins the rest of the federal government this September — National Preparedness Month — in urging you keep your emergency plans up to date. Your plans should cover natural hazards for your area, including earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. With Tropical Storm Hermine taking aim at the U.S., now is a particularly good time to think preparedness.

emergencyThe NRC’s preparedness planning deals with potential accidents with radioactive material, particularly nuclear power plants.

If you live within about 10 miles of a U.S. nuclear power plant, the plant sends you emergency planning information every year. You might get this information in the form of a calendar, brochure or other document. A very important part of these materials discusses how emergency plans cover special groups such as students or people with disabilities. The materials include who to contact ahead of time for any additional help you, a family member or neighbor might need during an emergency. When you share this information with emergency officials, they can also use it during natural events.

The planning materials also include basic information on radiation, instructions for protective actions such as evacuation and sheltering in place, and contacts for additional information. It’s always good to store this information where you can easily find it if needed.

Another key part of your emergency plan is staying informed during an event. The NRC requires every U.S. nuclear power plant to have reliable ways of quickly informing people within 10 miles that something’s happening. This can involve sirens, tone-alert radios (think weather-alert radios), or emergency officials driving through your neighborhood and giving instructions over loudspeakers. A plant’s annual planning information will include the radio or television channels to tune to for Emergency Alert System (EAS) information and instructions during an event.

The NRC examines all of this emergency preparedness work in assessing every U.S. nuclear power plant’s ability to protect the public. Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NRC grades a plant’s full-scale exercise at least once every two years. These exercises maintain the skills of plant, local, state and NRC emergency responders, as well as identify anything the plants need to improve. NRC inspectors also evaluate additional plant drills.

You can find more general information and tips on creating your family’s emergency plans at Ready.gov . Check out our YouTube video on hurricane preparedness at the NRC here.

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