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.

Even the Best Guidance Can Be Updated

Don Tailleart
Regulatory Improvements Team Leader
Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response

 

Well-written documents can stand the test of time – just look at the Declaration of Independence. The NRC and FEMA aimed for durability 30 years ago as we responded to the Three Mile Island accident. We co-wrote criteria for nuclear power plants to prepare and evaluate emergency response plans and preparedness programs. That guidance document has been the go-to standard for plant staff, and emergency preparedness managers at the state, local and tribal level.

The NRC and FEMA realized, however, that when a document starts showing its age it’s time for a revision. That’s why a joint NRC/FEMA team is revising NUREG-0654/FEMA-REP-1. This is an update rather than a complete rewrite. Our aim is to make the guidance more user-friendly by restructuring and streamlining it with a focus on evaluation criteria.

Evaluation criteria, by the way, are the parts of emergency plans and preparedness programs that directly respond to NRC or FEMA requirements. Both agencies use evaluation criteria when reviewing emergency plans to make sure the preparedness programs are acceptable.

Before starting on the revision, the NRC and FEMA took suggestions from the public and interested groups. Our writing teams used that information to refocus preliminary evaluation criteria language on capabilities and overall program elements. We’ve moved more detailed information on evaluation criteria implementation to a new NRC emergency preparedness guidance document and to the FEMA Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program Manual.

These changes reduced the number of criteria from 381 to about 190. Both the NRC and FEMA believe the updated criteria will provide an appropriate basis for U.S. nuclear power plants and state/local/tribal governments to develop radiological emergency plans and improve emergency preparedness.

Our writers have also been updating and adding several topics to the document’s introduction. The updated intro will address the document’s purpose, scope, and background, as well as the basis for developing emergency plans. New introduction topics include how the document will be used and how the document relates to regulations and other guidance documents. It also includes information on the alternative approaches used to meet NRC and FEMA requirements.

We expect to have the revised preliminary draft ready by the end of May. We’ll make the document available for public review and discussion, including holding another public meeting/webinar in late June at NRC headquarters. We expect to have a formal public comment period on the draft document starting in October 2014.