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Category Archives: Operating Reactors

Under NRC’s Watchful Eye — New Commercial Nuclear Power Plant Comes on Line

Joey Ledford
Public Affairs Officer
Region II

The nuclear power industry notched a significant milestone last week when the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 began commercial operations. It was the nation’s first new generating unit to come on line in 20 years.

More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort for Watts Bar 2

More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort for Watts Bar 2.

Ironically, the last unit to come on line before Watts Bar Unit 2 was its sister unit, Watts Bar Unit 1, which began commercial power production in 1996.

For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it was just another day at the office – the resident inspector office at the plant near Spring City, Tenn., northeast of Chattanooga. Several months before, the NRC had begun and then completed a gradual transition from construction inspection to operational inspection.

The Watts Bar units have a unique history. Both trace their lineage to 1973. Both units had lengthy construction hiatus periods, with Unit 2’s obviously lasting quite a bit longer.

Resumption of construction at Watts Bar hit a high gear in 2008 and during the next eight years, the NRC’s Region II-based construction inspection staff, supplemented by inspectors from headquarters in Rockville, Md., logged more than 127,000 hours making sure Unit 2 was built according to its design specifications. More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort. The NRC also expended considerable inspection activity during the unit’s lengthy pre-operational testing phase.

Now, however, Watts Bar is a twin-unit operating facility. Three NRC resident inspectors currently act as the agency’s eyes and ears at the Watts Bar site as Unit 2 transitions to the agency’s baseline inspection program for operating units. It will take about a year before that process is completed.

Even though Watts Bar was designed in the 1970s, it was licensed to today’s standards, including all the updated safety enhancements required by the NRC, including post-Fukushima upgrades and cybersecurity requirements.

With the addition of Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA now has seven nuclear units operating in Alabama and Tennessee.

An Era Ends at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

Shortly before 1 p.m. Monday, operators in the control room of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant pushed a red button, initiating an automatic shutdown of the reactor. So ended commercial operations for the nation’s smallest nuclear power plant, located along the Missouri River, about 20 miles north of Omaha, Neb.

fcsWhen it happened, just as it had done when the plant began operations 43 years earlier, the NRC had staff onsite to ensure events unfolded as planned, systems functioned as designed and public health and safety were protected.

“The shutdown was done in a very professional manner,” said Geoff Miller, a branch chief in the NRC’s Division of Reactor Projects, who oversees the plant from the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas. By his side was Lindsay Brandt, a reactor inspector from the Region IV office, who also monitored the shutdown.

Max Schneider, the Senior Resident Inspector at Fort Calhoun, was in the plant monitoring the shutdown and checking to ensure that all plant systems responded as designed. “Everything went very well. There were no issues with plant equipment,” said Schneider, who reported to the site in June 2014 after serving as a Resident Inspector at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts.

“I’ve watched lot of plant shutdowns prior to maintenance and refueling outages,” Miller said.  “Usually there is a lot of tension and excitement in the air in anticipation of events to follow but there was not a lot of that Monday. Things were subdued.”

The Omaha Public Power District’s Board of Directors voted several months ago to shut down Fort Calhoun for commercial reasons.

Brandt will remain at the plant for another three or four weeks and then return to the NRC’s Region IV, where she will resume other duties. Schneider will remain onsite for six months to a year to monitor post shutdown activities and ensure a safe transition from commercial operations to decommissioning mode.

Inspectors from the NRC’s Region IV office will conduct periodic inspections to ensure that spent fuel is being stored safely and securely in the plant’s water-filled spent fuel pool and in dry cask canisters while it remains onsite. The NRC will also conduct periodic inspections of decommissioning activities.

Within 30 days, Omaha Public Power District officials are expected to submit a letter to the NRC certifying the permanent cessation of commercial operations and stating that all of the radioactive fuel has been permanently removed from the reactor vessel. When this happens, OPPD will have surrendered its authority to operate the reactor or reload fuel in it. They have two years in which to file a report with the NRC, describing their plans for decommissioning the plant.

Throwback Thursday: The ACRS ’80s Style

tbtacrs1989The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards is a statutory body of scientists, engineers and other experts in fields related to nuclear safety. The Committee conducts independent reviews of nuclear power plant applications and other matters referred to it by the NRC. It has a long history – its responsibilities were described in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended.

This group shot, taken from the 1989 Annual Report to Congress, shows the ACRS members as of September that year. The photo is timely as the committee held its 637th meeting last Thursday.

The Chairman is seated in the middle. TBT Quiz: What was the Chairman’s name and to what position would he be appointed just two months later? Extra points if you can name the vice chairman, seen here seated second from the left.

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.

Baffle Bolts: An Update

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

There have been some new developments since our last blog post, on June 1, regarding degraded reactor vessel bolts identified at a pair of nuclear power plants in the Northeast. Most notably, both the Indian Point 2 plant, in New York, and the Salem 1 plant, in New Jersey, returned to service over the summer.

BaffleBoltsGraphic1_cleanbigfontIndian Point 2 came back online in late June after 278 of the plant’s 832 baffle-former bolts were replaced. As for Salem 1, it was restarted on July 30th after changing out 189 of its 832 baffle-former bolts.

In both cases, prior to the restarts, the NRC conducted independent evaluations of analyses done for the plants’ respective owners by the reactor vendors looking at how many new, more robust bolts had to be installed to maintain safety margins and ensure the structural integrity of the baffle-former plates. The agency also had specialist inspectors at the plants for first-hand observations and information-gathering on bolt-removal and -replacement activities.

Based on those reviews, the NRC concluded that the reactors were safe to operate. The bolts will be subject to further inspections at the reactors’ next refueling outages, which typically occur about once every 18 to 24 months.

Nevertheless, the NRC identified a “green” (very low safety significance) non-cited violation at Indian Point 3 related to the bolts issue in an inspection report issued on Aug. 30th. A similar non-cited violation has also been identified at the Salem nuclear power plant, as documented in an NRC inspection report issued on Sept. 22.

In both cases, the plant owners had not completed a necessary process to document its conclusion, following identification of degraded bolts on one unit, that the second unit was safe to continue to operate. After the NRC raised concerns regarding the deficiencies, the companies undertook corrective actions, including completing and documenting the evaluations.

Looking ahead, there is still more work to be done. Bolts from both reactors have been or will be sent to labs for metallurgical analysis. Also, the NRC will continue to engage the nuclear industry on its plans for addressing the issue

An NRC web page has been updated to reflect the latest available information on this topic, including the NRC slides from a related July meeting and a summary of the session.

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