Re-Evaluating Category 3 Source Protection and Accountability

Duncan White
Senior Health Physicist

Back in July, we talked about the Government Accountability Office’s investigation in which the GAO created a fake company that was successful in one out of three tries at getting a license for radioactive material. Once they received the license and placed an order, GAO then altered the license to increase the quantity of material authorized and placed a second order.  The higher quantity would have required additional protection measures beyond those required for the original quantity. The GAO never actually acquired any radioactive material and the public was never at risk.

On the day the GAO issued their report on the investigation, Commissioner Jeff Baran sent a memo to the other Commissioners proposing that NRC staff re-evaluate the methods used to account for Category 3 sources. (See “Categories of Radioactive Materials” at right). The other categoriesofradmat_editedCommissioners agreed and the Commission directed the staff to evaluate whether we should revise NRC regulations or processes governing protection and accountability for Category 3 sources.

The NRC and its partners in the Agreement States are working together to address these specific actions. That work will include, among other things:

  1. Evaluating the pros and cons of different methods for verifying the validity of a license before a Category 3 source is transferred;
  2. Evaluating the pros and cons of including Category 3 sources in the National Source Tracking System;
  3. Assessing any additional options to address the source accountability recommendations made by the GAO;
  4. Identifying changes in the threat environment since 2009 and considering whether they support expanding the NSTS to include Category 3 sources;
  5. Assessing the risks posed when a licensee possesses enough Category 3 sources to require the higher level protections for Category 2 quantities; and
  6. Getting input from Agreement State partners, non-Agreement States, licensees, public interest groups, industry groups, and the reactor community.

We will also consider recommendations made by the working group that evaluated the vulnerabilities identified by the GAO investigation. Additionally, we will consider our recently completed assessment of the security requirements in 10 CFR Part 37, “Physical Protection of Category 1 and 2 Quantities of Radioactive Material.” This review looked at the results of inspections of NRC licensees during the first two years the rule has been in effect, and events reported under the rule. The NRC sent a report on this review to Congress on December 14.

The NRC staff will develop recommendations related to Category 3 source protection and accountability and provide the recommendations to the Commission for deliberation in August 2017.

An important part of the NRC’s and Agreement States’ re-evaluation is soliciting input from our Agreement State partners, the impacted regulatory community and the public.  We have published a series of questions in the Federal Register to help assess the benefits, impacts, and costs of different alternatives. You can see these questions and send us your comments through the federal rulemaking website. We will provide opportunities to participate in the agency’s decision-making process through public meetings and webinars. More specific information about these opportunities for public involvement will be available on a new webpage. We welcome your input.

On the Road to Small Reactor Design Reviews

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

As the NRC starts looking over NuScale’s application to certify the company’s first-of-its-kind “small modular reactor” design, it’s worth looking back at how we got here. It’s also useful to look at the steps we’ll follow going forward in our technical review.

nuscaleNuScale’s application is the first to propose a nuclear power plant designed with several small reactors instead of one large one. The company has discussed this approach with us since 2008, using much the same “pre-application” process followed by makers of traditional large reactors. These talks helped both the NRC and NuScale understand where the design might need additional supporting information or alternative approaches to NRC policies. For instance, NuScale examined how its design could best meet the NRC’s requirements for staff in the control room.

The NRC also used information from NuScale in developing a design-specific review standard. This ensures the agency’s technical staff has specific guidance on the requirements NuScale must meet to get the novel small modular design approved. The standard covers topics such as instrumentation and controls, cooling the reactor core in an emergency, and the materials used for the reactor vessel and steam generator. The NRC published the draft review standard in July 2015 and after public comment, issued the final review standard in August 2016.

The application itself is a collection of electronic files that must be transferred into the NRC’s document database, ADAMS. This process ensures the agency staff can refer to a constant set of information during the review. It also allows the public to view any documents not subject to withholding for security or other reasons. The agency expects all the NuScale application documents will be transferred by mid-January.

Michael Johnson, NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations (right), and Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director of the Office of New Reactors (second from right) receive NuScale's application from NuScale Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson (second from left) and NuScale Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Tom Bergman (left).
Michael Johnson, NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations (right), and Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director of the Office of New Reactors, (second from right) receive NuScale’s application from NuScale Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson (second from left) and NuScale Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Tom Bergman (left).

Once the NRC has all the pieces of the NuScale application, the staff will first check if it contains enough high-quality information for us to do detailed technical reviews. If it doesn’t, NuScale can provide supplemental information. If it does and we find the application acceptable for a full review, we will publish a notice in the Federal Register. We expect to make our acceptance decision by mid-March.

Once we complete our full review and get feedback from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, the technical staff will decide whether NuScale’s design is safe and appropriate for U.S. use. If the answer is yes, the staff will offer the Commission a draft rule to add NuScale to the list of approved designs. The public can comment on draft rules to certify new designs.

We expect the design certification review to last about three years, assuming NuScale completely answers any NRC questions in a timely manner. This exacting review ensures the staff can make a fully informed decision that protects public health and safety.

A certified design is considered safe and appropriate for U.S. use; the NRC has certified six reactor designs to this point. Companies interested in using certified designs must apply for separate licenses before reactors can be built and operated.

Update on Quality Assurance Issues in France

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

Today, the NRC is releasing information about large reactor components supplied to U.S. nuclear plants by AREVA’s Creusot Forge in France. This information includes the names of the plants and the reactor components involved.

This blog post discusses the information as well as the NRC’s actions related to ongoing French investigations into potential defects and problems with quality assurance documents regarding the parts’ manufacture.

We are confident at this time that there are no safety concerns for U.S. nuclear power plants raised by the investigations in France. Our confidence is based on the U.S. material qualification process, preliminary structural evaluations of reactor components under scrutiny in France, U.S. material aging-management programs, our participation in a multinational inspection of Creusot Forge, and information supplied by AREVA about the documentation anomalies. Also, the components supplied to U.S. plants have performed well and inspections during their operating life have revealed no safety issues.

Because there are no immediate safety concerns, there is no justification for the NRC to order plants to shut down and inspect components, as some groups have suggested. Should new information raise a specific safety concern, the agency will take appropriate action.

The information released today ML17009a275 was provided to the NRC on Dec. 15 at our request by AREVA, a multinational manufacturer of nuclear plant components.  We informed AREVA on Dec. 30 of our intent to make the information public (ML16364A034). Attachment A lists components with forgings from Creusot Forge supplied to 17 U.S. reactors at 13 sites, directly by AREVA or through third-party vendors. The components are mostly replacement reactor vessel heads, replacement steam generator components or pressurizers. AREVA clarified the list in letters dated Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, which are included in the information.

We posted a piece last June about the investigation by the French Nuclear Safety Agency, ASN, into AREVA’s Creusot Forge. Here is an update:

There are two separate, but related, issues to the investigation in France. The first is called “carbon segregation,” a condition that in certain circumstances could create local areas of reduced toughness in large forged components of nuclear plants. The second is a series of anomalies discovered in the quality assurance documentation of components manufactured at Creusot Forge.

Carbon segregation occurs naturally during the casting of steel ingots. Carbon molecules concentrate as newly forged ingots cool. Most of this excess carbon is cut away and discarded before the actual plant components are formed, but some processes leave small areas of elevated carbon content near the component’s surface. NRC regulations and code requirements by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers account for this condition. Higher-than-expected carbon segregation has been discovered on some reactor components in France that were manufactured using a particular process, though there are no indications it would exceed U.S. limits. We’ve asked AREVA if any components supplied to U.S. reactors were manufactured using that same process, and we expect the company’s answer soon.

While investigating the carbon segregation issue, ASN discovered anomalies in the documents describing how components were manufactured at Creusot Forge. This probe, launched last May, has since expanded to include a review of documents dating back to 1965. (AREVA acquired Creusot Forge in 2006.)

Two NRC inspectors participated in an inspection of the Creusot Forge facility in late November/early December. The inspection team included inspectors from France, the United Kingdom, Finland, China and Canada, and was conducted under the Multinational Design Evaluation Programme, which facilitates information exchanges among nations. During the inspection, AREVA reported that some files on components supplied to U.S. nuclear plants contained anomalies. The company said the anomalies presented no apparent safety concerns.

The NRC inspectors conducted a preliminary review of records for three U.S. plants and agreed that AREVA had made a reasonable assessment of no safety concerns.

The ASN, which led the inspection, is expected to issue a report on its findings in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, AREVA filed an interim report to the NRC on Dec. 7 (ML16344A120), providing more information about document anomalies affecting some U.S. plants. AREVA said it had notified its U.S. customers (including nuclear power plants and vendors) of the documentation issues and its assessment that there are no related safety concerns. The company said it expects to complete its evaluation of Creusot Forge’s documentation processes for U.S. plants by June 30, 2017.

We are not taking this issue lightly. Complete and accurate documentation provides assurance that components were forged to the proper procedures and specifications. As the investigation continues, we remain alert to any indication that the documentation irregularities at Creusot Forge might call into question the safety of these components and U.S. nuclear plants.

 

REFRESH: Pokémon Go — Not a Go at Nuclear Plants

Prema Chandrathil
Public Affairs Officer
NRC Region III

pokemon-go-1569794_1920The highly popular cellphone game has found its way to a U.S. commercial nuclear power plant.

The Pokémon Go game lets users chase and catch virtual creatures with their cellphone cameras. However, Pokémon Go and other games that use the GPS signals in our phones are creating safety and security issues. Local law enforcement officials across the country have cautioned folks to pay attention while playing and be careful not to wander into traffic (warnings that have not always been heeded). The phrase “heads up” takes on new meaning here.

The games have even enticed players to trespass on private property — including the Perry nuclear power plant in northeastern Ohio.

Recently, three teenagers pursued one of the strange looking cartoon creatures into the employee parking lot of the Perry plant, at 3 in the morning! Instead of catching the Pokémon, they were caught by security officers and escorted off the property.

But it could have ended very differently – and much more seriously — for these Pokémon pursuers.

Commercial nuclear plants are among the best-protected facilities in the country. Their security officers are highly trained professionals who carry guns and are authorized to use them in protecting the plant. Though you might not always see the protective measures and many details are not publicly available, security is in place. (Click here for more info on the NRC’s security requirements for nuclear power plants.)

So have fun exploring and climbing over rocks searching for those virtual creatures, but the bottom line is be safe while playing these games. A nuclear power plant is not the place to be searching for Pikachu.

refresh leafREFRESH is an occasional series where we revisit previous posts. This post, which first ran in July 2016, was by far one of the most popular posts of last year.

 

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.