Like a Good Boy Scout, We’re Always Prepared

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

Because emergency preparedness is so important to the agency’s mission, the NRC has requirements to ensure nuclear power plant operators — and the NRC staff — are prepared to respond to events. And our rules require plants to have up-to-date emergency plans.

The NRC shares federal oversight of nuclear power plant emergency preparedness with FEMA. States have the overall authority for making protective action decisions for residents in the area, such as sheltering and evacuation, if there is an event at a plant. Local emergency responders also have an important role in protecting the public.

Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.
Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.

Plants must practice their emergency plans periodically to make sure plant staff is prepared to deal with a radiological emergency. Every other year, both the NRC and FEMA evaluate emergency response exercises at each operating plant, with both the state and local emergency responders participating.

NRC inspectors monitor the on-site response. They watch over the shoulders of operators and emergency responders to assure they’re correctly evaluating conditions, taking appropriate steps to deal with the reactor conditions and communicating well with off-site agencies, including the NRC. FEMA evaluates the efforts of state and local governments, and emergency responders.

The NRC staff must also be prepared to respond to an emergency. So several times a year, we participate in exercises, too. For example, the NRC’s region I recently participated in an emergency exercise for which we sent a site team to participate alongside plant emergency responders, and state and local emergency response agencies. We had staff in the various emergency facilities, including the simulator, the plant’s emergency operations facility, the joint news center and the state operations center. We also staffed our own incident response center in the Regional Office.

Participating in exercises gives us a chance to practice how we’d respond in an actual event. That means the NRC staff monitors and independently assesses reactor conditions, performs dose calculations, and reviews protective action recommendations. We also “issue” press releases, participate in mock news conferences, and interact with federal and state officials, and local emergency management agencies.

Afterwards, we take a look at what worked, and what didn’t go so well, and make changes to our procedures so that we’re continually improving.

We also learn from real events, like Hurricane Sandy, and put those lessons into place, so that the next time, we’re even better prepared.

Sandy’s One-Year Anniversary Serves as A Reminder

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of one of the worst coastal storms in U.S. history. Hurricane Sandy made landfall just north of Atlantic City and left billions of dollars in damages in its wake. A year later, impacted areas of New Jersey and New York are continuing efforts to recover from the pounding the storm delivered.

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the devastation the storm brought to neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast.
The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the devastation the storm brought to neighborhoods along the Atlantic Coast.

The NRC focused on the safety of nuclear power plants in the storm’s path as Sandy bore down on the region, dispatching additional inspectors to augment the resident inspectors at some of the potentially affected sites to provide for 24-hour coverage. In addition, the agency shifted to an elevated response mode that involved the activation of the Incident Response Centers in our Region I and II offices, and the Operations Center at our Headquarters office.

Throughout the event, the NRC also worked closely with state, county and federal partners, including FEMA.

As the storm struck, the plant closest to the eye of the hurricane, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, was shut down at the time but nonetheless had to cope with flooding conditions at its water intake structure and a temporary loss of off-site power. Three other reactors, meanwhile, either shut down or were knocked out of service by the storm’s effects.

At no time was the safety of these plants or others in the Northeast compromised, reflecting the high level of training for their operators, the hardened nature of the structures at the sites and preparations leading up to the storm’s arrival.

Still, there are always lessons to be learned from such events. For many nuclear power plants, the storm has led to a fresh evaluation of severe weather guidelines. These guidelines cover such areas as when a plant needs to begin powering down when wind speeds associated with a severe storm begin to impact a facility.

As for the NRC, we continue to assess the ability of plants to withstand severe flooding as part of our post-Fukushima reviews. Each plant is required to complete a flooding hazard re-evaluation to confirm the appropriateness of the hazards assumed for the site and the ability to protect against them.

Plant owners are required to use updated methods and information, with the results determining whether any additional regulatory actions are needed. More information on the NRC’s post-Fukushima reviews is available on the agency’s website.

Thus far, 2013 has seen low levels of hurricane activity, but Sandy will stand as a powerful reminder of the need for vigilance when it comes to storm preparations.