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On the Road to Small Reactor Design Reviews

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

As the NRC starts looking over NuScale’s application to certify the company’s first-of-its-kind “small modular reactor” design, it’s worth looking back at how we got here. It’s also useful to look at the steps we’ll follow going forward in our technical review.

nuscaleNuScale’s application is the first to propose a nuclear power plant designed with several small reactors instead of one large one. The company has discussed this approach with us since 2008, using much the same “pre-application” process followed by makers of traditional large reactors. These talks helped both the NRC and NuScale understand where the design might need additional supporting information or alternative approaches to NRC policies. For instance, NuScale examined how its design could best meet the NRC’s requirements for staff in the control room.

The NRC also used information from NuScale in developing a design-specific review standard. This ensures the agency’s technical staff has specific guidance on the requirements NuScale must meet to get the novel small modular design approved. The standard covers topics such as instrumentation and controls, cooling the reactor core in an emergency, and the materials used for the reactor vessel and steam generator. The NRC published the draft review standard in July 2015 and after public comment, issued the final review standard in August 2016.

The application itself is a collection of electronic files that must be transferred into the NRC’s document database, ADAMS. This process ensures the agency staff can refer to a constant set of information during the review. It also allows the public to view any documents not subject to withholding for security or other reasons. The agency expects all the NuScale application documents will be transferred by mid-January.

Michael Johnson, NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations (right), and Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director of the Office of New Reactors (second from right) receive NuScale's application from NuScale Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson (second from left) and NuScale Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Tom Bergman (left).

Michael Johnson, NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations (right), and Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director of the Office of New Reactors, (second from right) receive NuScale’s application from NuScale Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson (second from left) and NuScale Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Tom Bergman (left).

Once the NRC has all the pieces of the NuScale application, the staff will first check if it contains enough high-quality information for us to do detailed technical reviews. If it doesn’t, NuScale can provide supplemental information. If it does and we find the application acceptable for a full review, we will publish a notice in the Federal Register. We expect to make our acceptance decision by mid-March.

Once we complete our full review and get feedback from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, the technical staff will decide whether NuScale’s design is safe and appropriate for U.S. use. If the answer is yes, the staff will offer the Commission a draft rule to add NuScale to the list of approved designs. The public can comment on draft rules to certify new designs.

We expect the design certification review to last about three years, assuming NuScale completely answers any NRC questions in a timely manner. This exacting review ensures the staff can make a fully informed decision that protects public health and safety.

A certified design is considered safe and appropriate for U.S. use; the NRC has certified six reactor designs to this point. Companies interested in using certified designs must apply for separate licenses before reactors can be built and operated.

Update on Quality Assurance Issues in France

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

Today, the NRC is releasing information about large reactor components supplied to U.S. nuclear plants by AREVA’s Creusot Forge in France. This information includes the names of the plants and the reactor components involved.

This blog post discusses the information as well as the NRC’s actions related to ongoing French investigations into potential defects and problems with quality assurance documents regarding the parts’ manufacture.

We are confident at this time that there are no safety concerns for U.S. nuclear power plants raised by the investigations in France. Our confidence is based on the U.S. material qualification process, preliminary structural evaluations of reactor components under scrutiny in France, U.S. material aging-management programs, our participation in a multinational inspection of Creusot Forge, and information supplied by AREVA about the documentation anomalies. Also, the components supplied to U.S. plants have performed well and inspections during their operating life have revealed no safety issues.

Because there are no immediate safety concerns, there is no justification for the NRC to order plants to shut down and inspect components, as some groups have suggested. Should new information raise a specific safety concern, the agency will take appropriate action.

The information released today ML17009a275 was provided to the NRC on Dec. 15 at our request by AREVA, a multinational manufacturer of nuclear plant components.  We informed AREVA on Dec. 30 of our intent to make the information public (ML16364A034). Attachment A lists components with forgings from Creusot Forge supplied to 17 U.S. reactors at 13 sites, directly by AREVA or through third-party vendors. The components are mostly replacement reactor vessel heads, replacement steam generator components or pressurizers. AREVA clarified the list in letters dated Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, which are included in the information.

We posted a piece last June about the investigation by the French Nuclear Safety Agency, ASN, into AREVA’s Creusot Forge. Here is an update:

There are two separate, but related, issues to the investigation in France. The first is called “carbon segregation,” a condition that in certain circumstances could create local areas of reduced toughness in large forged components of nuclear plants. The second is a series of anomalies discovered in the quality assurance documentation of components manufactured at Creusot Forge.

Carbon segregation occurs naturally during the casting of steel ingots. Carbon molecules concentrate as newly forged ingots cool. Most of this excess carbon is cut away and discarded before the actual plant components are formed, but some processes leave small areas of elevated carbon content near the component’s surface. NRC regulations and code requirements by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers account for this condition. Higher-than-expected carbon segregation has been discovered on some reactor components in France that were manufactured using a particular process, though there are no indications it would exceed U.S. limits. We’ve asked AREVA if any components supplied to U.S. reactors were manufactured using that same process, and we expect the company’s answer soon.

While investigating the carbon segregation issue, ASN discovered anomalies in the documents describing how components were manufactured at Creusot Forge. This probe, launched last May, has since expanded to include a review of documents dating back to 1965. (AREVA acquired Creusot Forge in 2006.)

Two NRC inspectors participated in an inspection of the Creusot Forge facility in late November/early December. The inspection team included inspectors from France, the United Kingdom, Finland, China and Canada, and was conducted under the Multinational Design Evaluation Programme, which facilitates information exchanges among nations. During the inspection, AREVA reported that some files on components supplied to U.S. nuclear plants contained anomalies. The company said the anomalies presented no apparent safety concerns.

The NRC inspectors conducted a preliminary review of records for three U.S. plants and agreed that AREVA had made a reasonable assessment of no safety concerns.

The ASN, which led the inspection, is expected to issue a report on its findings in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, AREVA filed an interim report to the NRC on Dec. 7 (ML16344A120), providing more information about document anomalies affecting some U.S. plants. AREVA said it had notified its U.S. customers (including nuclear power plants and vendors) of the documentation issues and its assessment that there are no related safety concerns. The company said it expects to complete its evaluation of Creusot Forge’s documentation processes for U.S. plants by June 30, 2017.

We are not taking this issue lightly. Complete and accurate documentation provides assurance that components were forged to the proper procedures and specifications. As the investigation continues, we remain alert to any indication that the documentation irregularities at Creusot Forge might call into question the safety of these components and U.S. nuclear plants.

 

Getting Ready for Winter Looks Much Like Preparing for Hurricanes

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

coldweatherAt first glance the blizzard that pounded the upper Midwest on Christmas weekend – or the winter storm that hit New England over New Year’s — doesn’t seem to have much in common with the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast or Eastern Seaboard during the hot summer months.

But from our perspective, they do.

NRC regulations requires that U.S. nuclear power plants be ready for all kinds of weather conditions, and that extends to winter storms.

The preparations take many forms. Here are some of the key activities:

  • Plant operators keep close tabs on approaching storms via weather forecasting services. Storm watches or warnings would clearly attract attention.
  • As a storm draws closer, information gathered from the facility’s meteorological towers is assessed. These data points would include wind speed/direction and snowfall rates. Specific conditions, such as wind speeds exceeding a pre-designated threshold, can result in operators starting to shut down the reactor, or reactors, at a plant site.
  • Prior to a storm arriving in the area, plant personnel would conduct visual inspections of plant grounds. They would check that there were no loose items that could be propelled by strong winds and potentially damage equipment.
  • Workers would also ensure that fuel tanks for emergency diesel generators were filled. These generators can provide back-up power for plant safety systems should the local electrical grid go down.
  • Plans would also be developed to keep the plant appropriately staffed until the storm had passed. This might mean providing cots and food for employees unable to get home due to the weather conditions.

Amid all of these preparations, the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to each plant would follow the progress of these activities while also tracking expected conditions at the plant. They, too, could be asked to stay at the facility until the storm had passed.

The old adage that success is “90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration” is one taken seriously when wicked weather is bearing down.

 

Five Questions with Rick Hasselberg

Rick Hasselberg is a Senior Emergency Response Coordinator with the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response.

  1. How would you briefly describe your role at the NRC?

5 questions_9with boxI manage the NRC’s Reactor Safety Team. If an emergency occurs at a nuclear power plant, my team is responsible for assessing nuclear facility conditions, predicting future conditions, and recommending actions the NRC might take to help protect public health and safety. I am responsible for recruiting, training, and continuously challenging the expertise and response readiness of one of the most respected emergency response organizations in the world.  What could be better than that?

  1. What is your foremost responsibility at work?

I think about emergencies. While 99 percent of the people working at the NRC are working hard to ensure that appropriate safety measures are in place, I work under the assumption that any of those safety measures could possible fail and that it’s time to get busy.  (The more I think about the things that might happen, the less surprised I will be if they do.

  1. What is your most significant challenge in the workplace?

rickh_fixedI struggle with competing demand for the agency’s best and brightest employees.  I must ensure that NRC will able to maintain a pool of experienced, qualified response team members who can be pulled away from their regular duties to train, exercise and, if ever needed, to respond to an actual emergency event.

  1. What do you consider one of your most notable accomplishments at the NRC?

I joined the NRC in late 1979, in the months following the Three Mile Island Accident. During that period, the NRC was under considerable pressure to improve both its internal training programs and its external public information (outreach) programs. I contributed significantly to both programs, introducing multimedia production techniques (film, video, and 35mm slides) for improving internal technical training, and I created and presented a highly acclaimed, day-long Nuclear Power and Radiation seminar that NRC presented to news media representatives throughout the United States. I was credited with helping to re-establish NRC credibility with the news media.

  1. What is one quality of the NRC that more people should know?

This agency has a lot of very smart, very talented people who really care about their role in serving the nation. I’m very proud to serve with them.

Five Questions is an occasional series in which we pose the same questions to different NRC staff members.

 

 

Improving Public Meetings with New Facilitators and Policy Statement

Lance Rakovan
Senior Communications Specialist

It’s been a while since I first addressed the topic of NRC facilitators in a blog post; however we recently brought a new group of facilitators into the NRC’s In-House Meeting Facilitator & Advisor Program and I thought the occasion was worth mentioning.

The NRC's latest public meeting facilitators area ready to step into their new roles

The NRC’s latest public meeting facilitators are ready to step into their new roles.

The purpose of the program is to help make meetings and outreach more effective, inclusive and fair, and to increase NRC’s capacity to collaborate and solve problems with both internal and external stakeholders.

Program facilitators are NRC staff who assist in planning, preparing for and conducting meetings. They help with meetings as a collateral duty (in other words, in addition to their primary jobs). When asked why they would add to their workload by joining this program, facilitators said they’re looking for new challenges and to expand their skill set. But more importantly, they said they’re looking for new ways to help the NRC accomplish its mission.

The new facilitators, the fourth group of staff to enter the program, or “Gen4,” forged ties while completing four days of training. The training was intensive and, as you would expect, featured many opportunities for participants to test out their collaboration skills in a safe environment. Next step is for them to work with experienced facilitators for additional on-the-job training on their way to becoming “fully credentialed” members of the NRC’s Facilitator Corps.

While on the subject of public meetings, let me update you on the status of the Commission Policy Statement on Public Meetings. As I mentioned in my September 19, 2016, blog post, the NRC has drafted a new Commission policy statement on public meetings and sought public comment to make sure it hits the mark. The new policy statement is meant to re-affirm the importance of public participation in NRC’s public meetings and address a number of concerns noted previously by the public and NRC staff.

publicopinionnewI’ve seen some of the comments and there are some great ideas being provided. The policy statement is meant to be “50,000 feet” kind of guidance, so not all the ideas provided in the comments will be reflected in the final version of the policy statement, but the majority of them will certainly be incorporated into some level of NRC guidance, such as the next revision to NRC Management Directive 3.5, “Attendance at NRC Staff-Sponsored Meetings.”

Stay tuned for more information on the status of the policy statement. And look for our new facilitators at the next public meeting you attend.

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