Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of Dam Safety

Ken Karwoski
Dam Safety Officer

 

damWhile the NRC’s authority is limited to nuclear power plants and other civilian uses of nuclear material, dams play a role in what we regulate. Hydroelectric dams, for example, have supplied backup power for at least one reactor. A few reactors are downstream from various kinds of dams, so keeping the dams safe also helps keep the reactors safe.

We do our part in all this by participating in the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety. The federal government founded the committee in 1980 to help create and maintain effective programs, policies, and guidelines to enhance dam safety and security. FEMA chairs the committee.

The NRC has lots of company on the committee. Other members include:

  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Agricultural Research Service
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Forest Service
  • Department of Energy
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Park Service
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Tennessee Valley Authority

We meet formally at least once every three months to discuss dam safety issues, but committee members work together on issues whenever necessary. For example, the NRC works regularly with FERC to inspect safety-related water retention ponds at a handful of reactor sites and evaporation ponds at two uranium mills. Other interactions included sharing operating experience and research results.

A typical committee meeting involves members providing updates on major dam safety topics, such as proposed changes to federal guidelines or new training. The other members, including the NRC, provide advice and feedback that reflects each organization’s perspective. 

The NRC worked with other committee members related to the flooding hazard re-evaluations all U.S. nuclear power plants have been working on since March 2012, as directed by the NRC following the accident at Fukushima. We asked committee members to review parts of the re-evaluation guidance related to dam failures. The NRC incorporated the committee’s input into the final guidance to nuclear plants.

We’ll continue to discuss the flooding re-evaluation process, including the results where appropriate, as part of the dam safety committee’s ongoing work.