Friday, April 29, 2011

Weekly Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:
NEI Weekly Update on Fukushima Daiichi
Plant Status:

  • Priorities this week at Fukushima continued to be cooling the reactors and fuel pools, draining water from the turbine buildings and concrete structures that house piping to reduce radiation levels, and containing the spread of radioactive materials. Tokyo Electric Power Co. is increasing the amount of cooling water injected into reactor 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant as part of a plan to cover the fuel.
  • TEPCO plans to build a storage and processing facility that can hold 70,000 tons of highly radioactive water at the plant.
  • Overall, site radiation dose rates are stabilizing or decreasing. The most recent radiation readings reported at the plant site gates ranged from 4.8 millirem per hour to 2.2 millirem per hour. TEPCO has released a map showing radiation levels around the site, based on readings taken on different days since the incident began.
  • TEPCO said this week that it will build a wall of sandbags along the shoreline at the Fukushima Daiichi site as a temporary measure against another possible tsunami. The company also moved emergency power generators to higher ground to prevent the reactors' cooling systems from failing in case a major tsunami hits the plant again. The utility will sandbag the shoreline at the plant to a height of several meters. Priority will be put on the area near the waste processing facility, where highly radioactive water is being moved from around the reactor buildings. TEPCO is also planning to build a breakwater on the shoreline, as the sandbags cannot remain the long-term solution for a possible tsunami.
  • Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission asked the government April 28 to review the ability of the country's nuclear power plants to withstand earthquakes. The commission has requested that the Nuclear Safety Agency "reexamine the fault lines and geographical changes where plant operators have so far said the risk of earthquake damage was low." The utilities’ reassessment of earthquake resistance "will likely take several years," the NSC said, and will likely affect the start of operations at new nuclear power plants and the construction of new reactors.
  • TEPCO said April 28 that it does not believe the spent fuel pool at reactor 4 of Fukushima Daiichi is leaking, according to a report by Japan television station NHK. The utility said it initially believed that declining water levels in the pool indicated that it might have been damaged in an explosion soon after March 11, but it "now believes that the water has been evaporating at a rate in line with calculations by experts.” The fuel storage pool "will be reinforced by July," TEPCO said.
Regulatory/Political Issues:
  • NRC site inspections as a follow-up to the Fukushima event were set to end. A draft report of the results is expected in two weeks.
  • The NRC staff briefed the commissioners Thursday on its review of the Fukushima accident and on the station blackout rule. Bill Borchardt, the NRC's executive director for operations, told the commissioners that NRC reviews of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi "have not identified anything that needs immediate action" at U.S. reactors. The briefing also explored preparations at U.S. reactors for a total loss of AC power, or station blackouts. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said he is "not convinced that in that situation (station blackout), four hours is a reasonable time to restore off-site power. That may be something we want to look at a little bit more."
  • The Group of 20 economic powers (G-20) will meet June 7-8 to discuss nuclear safety "in the light of the events" at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said this week. The International Atomic Energy Agency also will take part in the G-20 meeting.
New NEI Products:
  • A new video on radiation monitoring, featuring Health Physics Society President Edward Maher, appears on NEI’s YouTube channel.
  • A new fact sheet on relicensing and the safety of nuclear energy plants.
Media Highlights:
  • Alex Marion, NEI’s vice president for nuclear operations, briefly discussed implications of Fukushima for the U.S. industry on CNN as part of a larger discussion of industry’s emergency preparedness.
  • NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel spoke with New York Times reporter Tom Zeller on claims by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Union of Concerned Scientists that the NRC is a “captive” regulator. He described NRC as an effective regulator and noted transparency in U.S. regulatory process and improvements to better focus on safety over the past decade.
  • NEI discussed the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl in the context of Fukushima with Forbes magazine.
  • Homeland Security Today magazine is focusing its July issue on challenges of critical infrastructure security, especially from earthquakes tsunamis and other severe events. In an interview, NEI addressed the improvements over the last 10 years, including physical additions to plant security, additional personnel and training, shift drill exercises and NRC-graded exercises.
The Week Ahead:
  • NEI will conduct focus group sessions May 2 in Los Angeles as part of its public opinion research project on safety and preparedness issues.
  • The NRC will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 3, for a briefing on emergency preparedness. The meeting will be webcast.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittees on energy and power and environment and the economy will conduct a joint hearing at 9:30 a.m. on May 4 to examine the role of the NRC in America’s energy future. All the commissioners are expected to testify.

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