NRC Talks Research in Tennessee

Salman Haq
Reactor Engineer
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

We recently issued the draft report summarizing detailed research and analyses into what might happen during an accident at a nuclear power plant. Tomorrow, we’ll head to the third plant we analyzed, Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, to discuss the results with the surrounding communities. The plant is located in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.

Cover of SOARCA Communications Brochure (NUREG BR-0359 Rev2)The project, called the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses, or SOARCA, looked at potential situations that could disable a reactor’s normal safety systems. The project used powerful computer programs to predict the plants’ behavior based on decades of real-world experiments into issues such as how reactor fuel responds during the extreme temperatures expected during these accidents.

SOARCA then plugged up-to-date information about the plants into the programs and examined how a potential accident might unfold.

We found that safety equipment the NRC required after the 9/11 attacks, or additional equipment that industry voluntarily added following the Fukushima event, if used according to plan, would help prevent or mitigate a reactor accident. Even for the most severe accidents the research came to three basic conclusions:

  • Accidents occur more slowly than we originally thought;
  • Accidents release less radioactive material than we originally thought; and
  • The emergency plans every U.S. reactor has in place can help keep people safe.

The project came to some more specific conclusions about accident effects around the three plants, Surry (southeast of Richmond, Va.), Peach Bottom (southeast of Lancaster, Pa.), and Sequoyah. For example, the slowly developing nature of the accidents and the existing emergency plans would help keep people safe, even during uncontrolled accidents.

Some of the NRC staff involved in SOARCA discussed the Sequoyah project on April 20, at the TVA Sequoyah Nuclear Training Building.

If you have comments on the draft report, you have until May 12, 2016 to send them in. The best way to comment is through regulations.gov, using Docket ID NRC-2016-0074. You can also mail comments (referencing the Docket ID) to Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: OWFN-12-H08, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001.

If you submit comments in writing or in electronic form, they will be posted on the NRC website and on regulations.gov. The NRC will not edit or remove any identifying or contact information; please don’t include any information you wish to keep private.

We’ve also developed a public communications brochure to help explain the SOARCA project to a wider audience of stakeholders using plain language and more illustrations.

El Nino and NRC Preparedness

F. Paul Peduzzi
Branch Chief
Division of Preparedness and Response

elninoEl Niño is already making itself felt along the West Coast. This phenomenon occurs every two to seven years. It warms sea surface temperatures in the eastern-central Pacific Ocean, shifting average sea level pressure and tropical rainfall in dramatic fashion, and leading to weather pattern changes over parts of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Forecasters expect this year’s El Niño to be one of the strongest ever, based on changes in the sea surface temperatures of the Pacific.

No two El Niño’s are exactly alike, but the pattern generally has these effects:

  • Increased rain and snow across California and the southern United States, with less in the Pacific Northwest and in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys
  • Milder than normal winter across the northern United States
  • More hurricanes than normal in the eastern Pacific and fewer in the Atlantic during hurricane season (June 1 – November 30)

The NRC is alert to potential impacts on our licensees. Facilities such as nuclear power plants are designed to withstand much more severe weather than El Niño typically brings. Nuclear power plants are designed and built to withstand the most severe weather and floods historically reported for their area. Several plants experienced strong El Niño weather patterns in the ‘80s and ‘90s with no major problems.

Following the Fukushima events in Japan in 2011, the plants have enhanced their ability to deal with major floods. For example, additional portable safety equipment, such as pumps and generators, is now available both onsite and offsite.

However, El Niño’s storms could block roadways, making it difficult for plant staff to get to the site and impeding public evacuation routes. Plant operators can use other transportation means to get staff and equipment to the site, if needed. And emergency plans have provisions to clear evacuation routes or use alternate routes. These provisions have been tested before, such as during the Missouri River flooding of 2011

The bottom line? California may be unusually soggy this winter, but the NRC does not expect the current El Niño to cause any safety issues for the nation’s nuclear power plants. As always, we remain vigilant and continue to work with other federal agencies on emergency preparedness and incident response, just in case.