Thursday, March 17, 2011

“A Review of Our Nuclear Plants Is an Appropriate Step…”

We shouldn’t forget through all the coverage of Japan that the nuclear energy industry is still moving along here. It would be foolish for the American industry not to apply lessons learned as soon as the apparent lessons begin to reveal themselves – and the industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission are prepared to do this.

NEI Shares Obama Call to Incorporate Safety Lessons From Japan Accident

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 17, 2011—The following is a statement by Marvin S. Fertel, president and chief executive officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute, on President Obama’s remarks today regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

“We appreciate the President’s leadership during this difficult time for the people of Japan. Like the President, our industry recognizes that there is concern about the accident in Japan and we are providing resources and expertise to the Japanese industry to return the Fukushima plant to a safe condition. This is a very serious matter in Japan, but we echo the assessment of health experts that there is currently no health threat to the United States.

“A review of our nuclear plants is an appropriate step after an event of this scale and we expect that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct its own assessment. The industry’s highest priority is the safe operation of 104 reactors in 31 states and we will incorporate lessons learned from this accident at American nuclear energy facilities. The commitment, along with the strict regulation of the industry by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has made U.S. reactors the safest in the world.

“Even before we can get lessons learned from Japan, all companies that produce electricity at nuclear power plants are verifying their capability to maintain safety even in the face of severe adverse events.”

(This will appear on the NEI site soon.)

“A review of our nuclear plants is an appropriate step…” may seem an understatement, but the actions the industry is taking are anything but understated:

The U.S. nuclear energy industry has already started an assessment of the events in Japan and is taking steps to ensure that U.S. reactors can respond to events that may challenge safe operation of the facilities. These actions include:

  • Verify each plant’s capability to manage major challenges, such as aircraft impacts and losses of large areas of the plant due to natural events, fires or explosions. Specific actions include testing and inspecting equipment required to mitigate these events, and verifying that qualifications of operators and support staff required to implement them are current.
  • Verify each plant’s capability to manage a total loss of off-site power. This will require verification that all required materials are adequate and properly staged and that procedures are in place, and focusing operator training on these extreme events.
  • Verify the capability to mitigate flooding and the impact of floods on systems inside and outside the plant. Specific actions include verifying required materials and equipment are properly located to protect them from flood.
  • Perform walk-downs and inspection of important equipment needed to respond successfully to extreme events like fires and floods. This work will include analysis to identify any potential that equipment functions could be lost during seismic events appropriate for the site, and development of strategies to mitigate any potential vulnerabilities.

You can see the echoes of Fukushima in this list and a recognition that some events are more likely here than in Japan. The industry and the NRC already account for events like earthquakes and tsunamis in design specifications and regulations, as Japan no doubt does; still, a further accounting to develop ways to provide a greater ability to mitigate natural catastrophes can only be for the good.

A section I did not reprint here says “The accident at Fukushima Daiichi was caused, in part, by extraordinary natural forces that were outside the plant’s required design parameters.” This is so – the events in Japan were much beyond anything ever seen there.

But nuclear plants are constructed to withstand natural disasters much more potent than those historically seen in an area. After all, the most powerful earthquake will always be superseded in time. So the nuclear energy industry isn’t looking to create a regime to counter natural disaster but to enhance a regime that has been sterling to date in operating though fury and tempest.

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