There’s been a lot of confusion and misinterpretation over the past week in the media about how US nuclear plants meet fire protection regulations. NRC’s Director of Public Affairs, Eliot Brenner, posted a piece over the weekend clearing it up:
There's more I left out so be sure to stop by and see the rest.
Let’s start with the bottom line — every U.S. nuclear power plant complies with the relevant NRC requirements for protecting its reactor from fire hazards. There may be confusion over the “exemptions” sometimes issued to some plants under the NRC’s least flexible fire protection approach, called Appendix R.
Appendix R is effectively a one-size-fits-all approach for plants that are in fact custom-built projects. Newer plants tend to be built closer to Appendix R requirements, while older plants are more likely to have difficulty meeting the goals.
The NRC knew from the start that the appendix wouldn’t apply to every part of every plant, so plants were going to apply for exemptions where Appendix R didn’t make sense. The NRC has a well-established process for reviewing exemption requests, which must have solid technical support in order to get approved. The federal court covering southern New York recently upheld the agency’s process — in fact, the court’s ruling even noted the NRC rejects exemption requests if they’re not justified.
You can see an everyday example of exemptions at the DMV, when it comes to having “acceptable vision” for a drivers license exam. Since not everyone’s vision falls in the acceptable range, DMV regulations allow people to wear glasses or contacts. This can be considered an “exemption” from uncorrected vision requirements that’s still acceptable and compliant with the law.
Even if a plant has exemptions from parts of Appendix R, the NRC is satisfied that plant has an appropriate overall fire protection program.
Bottom line? The fix for an exemption or a compensatory measure has to be safe. Otherwise it won’t fly with the NRC.