Considering Plant Circumstances for Post-Fukushima Requirements

Lauren Gibson
Project Manager
Japan Lessons-Learned Division

When the NRC establishes a new requirement or asks its licensees for information, the agency sets appropriate deadlines. Plants usually meet those deadlines, but sometimes there are complications and a licensee needs more time than was originally anticipated.

The NRC established such deadlines for its post-Fukushima actions and, in some cases, licensees have asked for more time to complete the work. For instance, a plant might need information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to finish reevaluating its flooding hazard.

JLD vertical CWhat happens if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still working on that information as the NRC’s deadline approaches? Another plant might be nearing compliance with all aspects of the Mitigating Strategies Order, but unforeseen prolonged and severe winter weather causes construction delays with the equipment storage building.

Other plants have announced that they will be shutting down in a few years, but after some deadlines for Fukushima-related work will have passed. What do all these plants do? They formally ask the NRC to revise the plant’s deadlines or relieve the plant of its requirement.

The NRC considers many things when reviewing these schedule change requests, including:

  • Has the plant adequately justified its request?
  • Is the amount of extra time requested reasonable?
  • How will the plant continue to ensure safety in the period between the initial and proposed due dates?

If a licensee does not provide enough information for the NRC to make a decision, it will either request additional information from the licensee or deny the request. The NRC takes extension requests very seriously and ensures that each is thoroughly reviewed – by project managers, technical experts, NRC lawyers and enforcement experts, and NRC management (in some cases, up to the Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation).

Plants that are permanently shutting down have other options. Depending on the timing of their shutdown, they may request that NRC orders requiring certain actions be cancelled or rescinded for them. The NRC will only rescind an order after the plant has certified it has permanently ceased operations and is no longer an operating reactor. This ensures the requirements stay in place if the plant later decides to keep operating.

Plants can also ask to delay certain work on the orders, which was the case for the recently-approved Oyster Creek relaxation request. The delay is not indefinite, though. If Oyster Creek does not shut down as planned, it must complete the work by a specified date.

Plants would follow a similar process to ask for schedule relaxations on the information requests (for example, the Vermont Yankee licensee requested to be relieved of responding to the request once the plant was shut down).

All of these requests get plenty of NRC review time. The NRC staff carefully considers each request on a plant-specific basis, and the NRC would only approve a relaxation request if a licensee provides good justification and demonstrates that safety would be maintained if the request were approved.

Even with the limited number of relaxation requests approved by the NRC, the industry is well on its way to appropriately implementing all post-Fukushima safety enhancements.



Plenty of Progress to Report on Fukushima-related Enhancements

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

fukushimaThe NRC’s technical staff, industry executives and a public interest group will brief the Commissioners Thursday on the agency’s efforts to implement what we’ve learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The bottom line is the NRC is ahead of schedule on several fronts.

Some of the best news involves U.S. reactors meeting requirements from two of the NRC’s Fukushima-related Orders issued in March 2012. By the end of this spring, almost a quarter of the U.S. fleet will comply with the Mitigation Strategies and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation Orders. We expect more than half the fleet will meet those Orders by the end of December, which is a full year before the Orders’ deadline.

Every U.S. reactor will comply with the instrumentation requirements by the December 2016 deadline. Every reactor will also comply by that time with a major Mitigation Strategies requirement – additional, well-protected onsite portable equipment to support key safety measures if an extreme event disables a plant’s installed systems. The U.S. industry has already set up two response centers with even more equipment that can be transported to any U.S. reactor within 24 hours. By the time we say good-bye to 2016, almost every reactor will also have made all modifications needed to use those portable systems. In preparing to meet the deadlines, U.S. reactors have already enhanced their ability to keep the public safe.

About a dozen plants will have made all those modifications except changes closely related to the third Order, which requires Hardened Vents for reactors with designs similar to those at Fukushima. These vents would safely relieve pressure in an emergency and help other systems pump cooling water into the core. All the reactors subject to the Order have completed plans for the first set of vent enhancements or installation of new vents.

The NRC staff finished reviewing these plans earlier this month, ahead of schedule, and issued written evaluations to each plant. The agency is also about ready to issue guidance on how these plants can meet the second part of the Order, which involves an additional vent or other methods to protect the structure surrounding the reactor.

The staff’s presentation will also cover topics including revising the NRC’s rules in these areas, as well as the ongoing effort to re-evaluate flooding hazards for all U.S. nuclear power plants. The NRC’s regional offices will provide their perspective on the overall implementation effort’s progress.

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