Friday, March 25, 2016

Fox and Friends and Nuclear Plant Security

Both the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have concluded that U.S. nuclear plants are among the most secure of all industrial facilities. But for some reason, that fact wasn't reported on Fox and Friends this morning when Tucker Carlson interviewed Alan Kuperman of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project on nuclear power plant security.


When it comes to the threat of terrorism, American nuclear plants responded quickly in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, spending more than $2 billion to upgrade security.

The independent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has said that nuclear power plants are "among the best-protected private sector facilities in the nation." The NRC holds nuclear power plants to the highest security standards of any American industry. These security measures get more robust the closer you get to the plant, using defenses such as vehicles, barriers/concrete walls, sophisticated intrusion detection and weaponry. There also are measures to protect against insider threats.

We're always surprised that Carlson neglects to mention these facts when he reports on the topic. After all, Carlson edits The Daily Caller, a website that ran an op-ed in 2011 by NEI's Marv Fertel on how the nuclear industry supplemented security after the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Overall, the U.S. nuclear energy industry alone employs about 9,000 heavily armed security personnel. That compares pretty favorably with the entire Belgian Army, which only has about 12,000 soldiers in uniform.

Does Tucker Carlson read The Daily Caller?
Just like the last time Fox reported about this issue, they neglected to contact anyone in the nuclear energy industry for comment, opting instead to let Kuperman speak over archival footage of another Fox and Friends/Daily Caller report we debunked back in 2014.

Whatever this is, it isn't fair and balanced journalism. People have a right to know what we're doing to secure our plant sites, but journalists also have a responsibility to give us an opportunity to answer those questions in the first place. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, reporters should "Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing." That same code of ethics also says, " Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources." As we reported back in 2013, Kuperman has previously worked for the rabid anti-nuclear group, Greenpeace, so it isn't as if he doesn't have an ax to grind with us.

For an example of what actual reporting looks like, watch this video that was shot by The Day when they talked to security personnel at Dominion's Millstone Nuclear Power Plant.


Please keep up with us on Twitter, as we engage in a what's sure to be a day-long conversation about this story. Be sure to watch NEI's video on nuclear plant security, while also reviewing the information on our website on nuclear power plant security.

From the NEI Nuclear Notes archive:

DYK Alan Kuperman worked for Greenpeace?
A Fresh Perspective on Nuclear Plant Security
NEI Responds to NPPP Report on Security at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants
Why the Daily Caller is Wrong About Nuclear Power Plant Security
NRC Rebuts Daily Caller on Nuclear Power Plant Security

POSTSCRIPT:  After The Daily Caller ran their piece on nuclear plant security in 2014, the nuclear industry reached out to the reporter in question to see if he would be interested in touring Calvert Cliffs. He declined the invitation. This morning, NEI's media team contacted Fox News in an attempt to speak with Carlson. We were told he was unavailable.

Public Opinion on Nuclear Energy: Where is it Headed?

Ann Bisconti
The following is a guest post by Ann S. Bisconti, PhD, President, Bisconti Research, Inc.

As we await the results of the ongoing NEI Spring 2016 Public Opinion Survey on Nuclear Energy, two other surveys have raised the question: Where is public opinion about nuclear energy headed? Scientific American Plugged In, March 23, pondered the dramatically different results from questions about nuclear energy asked in polls by Gallup and the University of Texas (UT) and essentially ended puzzled, concluding that polls are faulty. But wait a minute. Both polls are accurate, and we can learn lessons about public opinion by studying them.

Gallup’s Annual Environmental Poll includes one question about nuclear energy, an NEI tracking question: “Overall, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States.” Gallup found 44 percent in favor and 54 percent opposed in 2016, a big drop in favorability from 2015, and headlined that, for the first time, a majority of Americans oppose nuclear energy.

The UT Energy Poll asks: “Based on what you know, to what extent do you support or oppose the use of nuclear energy? (Strongly oppose, somewhat oppose, neither support nor oppose, somewhat support, or strongly support, not sure).” In contrast to Gallup, UT found that support increased from 2015 to 2016. Currently, the poll shows, 39 percent strongly or somewhat support nuclear energy, 26 percent strongly or somewhat oppose nuclear energy, and 35 percent neither support nor oppose.


Here are some lessons from these polls that are consistent with what we know from 33 years of comprehensive NEI research on public attitudes:
  • Public opinion about nuclear energy is, for the most part, not strongly held. The UT poll shows many people in the middle, and so do NEI surveys.
  • Public opinion is highly changeable and reflects a trade off people make—consciously or unconsciously—between perceptions of need and safety concerns, and the two polls illustrate how this happens. In the Gallup poll, the question about support for nuclear energy is asked after questions about hazards, triggering focus on safety concerns. In the context of questions about energy, as in the UT Energy Poll, a question about support for nuclear energy may trigger thoughts of how nuclear energy fits into the energy picture.
  • Energy concerns drive up support for nuclear energy. Gallup’s explanation for the downturn on the favorability question is primarily that energy is not currently on the public agenda. That is true. When energy is perceived to be abundant, as it is today, the perceived urgency for nuclear energy diminishes. Historically, resurgent strong support for nuclear energy coincides with periods characterized not only by electricity shortages but also by situations not especially relevant to nuclear energy such as high gasoline prices or conflict in the Middle East.
NEI’s surveys assess and track the many dimensions of attitudes toward nuclear energy, as well as the influences on these attitudes. As of 2015, U.S. public support for nuclear energy continued to be broad but not deep, and highly changeable; 68 percent in March and 64 percent in September said they favored the use of nuclear energy. A majority held middle positions, as 26 percent strongly favored nuclear energy while 15 percent strongly opposed (September).

Energy is likely to remain abundant for years, so continued support for nuclear energy will depend on a better public understanding of the urgent need not just for energy sources but for nuclear energy in particular. Our research shows that Americans want both reliable electricity and clean air. Most do not know that nuclear energy is the only source that provides both. Only nuclear energy is both a 24/7 baseload energy source like coal and natural gas and also a carbon-free energy source like solar and wind.

Challenges to building that awareness are considerable, NEI surveys showed:
  • In an open-ended question, only 10 percent of those favoring nuclear energy mentioned clean air, no pollution, or climate change as one of the reasons for their opinion (Spring 2015).
  • 67 percent of the public believed that nuclear energy releases greenhouse gases (Spring 2014)
  • 70 percent did not know that nuclear energy is the largest source of low-carbon electricity today—when, in fact, it is the largest source by far (Fall 2015).
After learning the real magnitude of nuclear energy’s contribution to the low-carbon mix, 84 percent said that nuclear energy should be important, and 50 percent said it should be very important (Fall 2015). Among those who said nuclear energy should be important after learning that information were 62 percent of those initially opposed to nuclear energy and 43 percent of those initially strongly opposed.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The American Hero Behind Plant Vogtle

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Steve McQueen
On this day in 1944, 76 Allied prisoners of war broke out of a Nazi POW camp. It was a daring operation that later became known as "The Great Escape" thanks to a book and film adaptation of the same name. What in the world does this have to do with nuclear energy?

One of the main characters in the film is U.S. Army Air Force pilot Virgil Hilts. He was played by Hollywood legend Steve McQueen. Virgil Hilts was just a fictional character. But Alvin Vogtle was the real deal.

I'll let NEI's Mark Flanagan pick it up from here in an excerpt from a 2010 blog post about the federal loan guarantees for the construction of two AP-1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia.

* * *
Who was Alvin Ward Vogtle, Jr., after whom the plant is named? According to his 1994 New York Time obituary, he was:
A former president and chairman of the Atlanta-based Southern Company.
Vogtle (3rd from right) & his POW bunk mates.
Well, that makes sense. But here’s what really caught our eye in the obituary:
Captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, he made four unsuccessful escape attempts. On his fifth try, in 1943, he reached safety by scaling a 14-foot barbed-wire border fence and crossing the Rhine to Switzerland.
That’s dramatic, not to mention heroic. Might make a good movie, no?

* * * 
As Mark later mentioned, the screenwriters, as is their wont, took some liberties with the exact details about Vogtle's escape attempts, but the real story leaves no doubt: Vogtle was a true American hero, and our industry is proud that the plant bears his name.

Friday, March 18, 2016

An All-of-the-Above Nuclear Future

Russ Bell
The following is a guest post from Russ Bell, senior director of new plant licensing at NEI.

There was a positive vibe at this year’s NRC Regulatory Information Conference (RIC), which took place in Rockville, MD, on March 8-10. Held annually, “the RIC” is the largest conference of nuclear energy professionals in the world. RIC sessions cover numerous topics du jour, including justifiable pride by regulators and industry alike in the safety improvements made in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency that occurred at Fukushima-Daiichi; anticipation of second license renewals that will further extend the useful life of our operating fleet of 100 reactors; and excitement about new, advanced design nuclear plants. The future was a recurring theme of the 2016 RIC.

While we can’t predict the future, there are a few things we can say for sure:
  1. The demand for electricity and the myriad benefits it brings will continue to grow.
  2. Demands will increase for our electricity be clean and carbon free, without compromising the reliability we’ve come to take for granted.
  3. Energy markets are not monolithic. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge companies face to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity in the various regions communities they serve. 
Because we know just those few things about the decades ahead, we are working hard to enable an all-of-the-above nuclear future that includes a portfolio of technology options, including
  • Large LWRS
  • Light water SMRs
  • And non-LWR reactors
And the future of nuclear is here already.  

In Tennessee, Watts Bar 2 received its operating license last October and will soon become the first new nuclear plant to come on line in the US since 1996. Utilities in Georgia and South Carolina are busy building the first plants licensed under the NRC’s new plant licensing process, known as Part 52. These four Westinghouse AP1000 units are also the first NRC-certified designs that employ passive features to achieve enhanced levels of safety.

TVA CEO Bill Johnson celebrates receipt of Watts Bar 2 operating license. 
Nuclear technology traces a continuum of innovation, and the Next Big Thing just might be light water SMRs. Light water SMRs make innovative use of familiar technology and they are ready to be licensed and built. SMRs have smaller nuclear cores and simplified designs that significantly reduce potential accident scenarios and the risk of offsite radiological releases. For an owner, SMRs can be sited in more places and are suited to smaller grids. They cost less to build and will be easier to finance.


NuScale is farthest along among SMR vendors and plans to submit its design certification application to NRC by the end of this year. NuScale is working closely with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems on plans to license and build the lead NuScale plant in Idaho in the early 2020s. TVA is also considering adding an SMR to its system and will apply to NRC for an Early Site Permit at the Clinch River site later this year.

NuScale Power Module
DOE is supporting NuScale and TVA as part of a public-private partnership known as the SMR Licensing and Technical Support Program. We plan to work with the Administration, Congress, and DOE to continue DOE’s support of SMRs after the current LTS program expires in 2017.

Beyond SMRs, advanced non-LWR reactors have great potential as a strategic energy technology to supplement the existing light water reactor technologies and provide reliable, clean carbon-free, affordable electricity generation. 

Advanced reactors can be large or small, or even very small, and can differ substantially from LWRs. In addition to simplified, passive safety systems, non-LWR reactors may have advanced fuel cycles that reduce waste. Some operate at near atmospheric pressure, which offers significant design and safety benefits. Most operate at very high temperatures, making them well suited to process heat applications such as hydrogen production and desalination.

Though some years away from commercial availability, advanced non-light water reactors are generating a lot of interest today among policymakers, environmentalists, venture capitalists, industry leaders and leaders outside our industry such as Bill Gates. DOE is supporting advanced reactors in a variety of ways, including research, development, testing and demonstration. And Congress is weighing in too. The House and Senate passed companion bills last month supporting the use of DOE’s unique testing and analysis facilities to accelerate development of advanced reactors, and additional legislation is under consideration.

Generating companies need a range of advanced reactor options – an all-of-the-above menu, so to speak – so they can choose the technology that best meets their needs.  

We are experiencing a convergence of experience and ingenuity that we want to leverage to make the design certification and licensing process more efficient in the future. We are feeding lessons learned from the lead AP1000 projects into the licensing and development of SMRs and other advanced technologies.  

The success of these efforts will mean substantially improved process efficiency and plant economics, which is important to enable nuclear plants to provide the reliable and carbon free electricity that our industry, our country, and our planet so desperately need.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fukushima Five Years Later: The FLEX Strategy

David Heacock
This week is the fifth anniversary of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To mark the event, we'll be sharing observations from leaders around the nuclear energy industry all week long on how the U.S. has absorbed lessons learned from the accident to make safe nuclear plants even safer. Today's contribution comes on the industry's FLEX strategy from David Heacock, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dominion Nuclear.

The U.S. nuclear industry is well on its way toward implementing a flexible mitigation approach for responding to any event that may exceed the robust design of the nation’s nuclear power plants. This FLEX strategy, the outcome of the U.S. industry’s response to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan, provides yet another layer of safety. This is in addition to the multiple back-up safety systems already available to protect the public and environment.


In effect, this strategy was demonstrated to successfully prevent damage to the reactor core at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, only a short distance from its sister plant, Daiichi.

FLEX strategies provide the greatest safety benefit of all the options that could be implemented in a short period of time to further ensure public safety from extreme natural events. Each site is equipped with portable equipment capable of providing electricity and pumping water to keep the nuclear core cool and stable. This equipment can be moved easily from protective storage buildings on the site to key locations in the plant to maintain reactor cooling until a longer-term solution is put in place. Two national response centers—in Memphis, Tennessee and Phoenix—provide additional FLEX equipment and resources that can be dispatched to any U.S. nuclear station within 24 hours.

More than half of the nation’s nuclear operators have implemented the FLEX strategy and the rest are making progress towards complying with this requirement in a timely manner.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fukushima Five Years Later: Focused on Operational Excellence

Bill Webster
This week is the fifth anniversary of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To mark the event, we'll be sharing observations from leaders around the nuclear energy industry all week long on how the U.S. has absorbed lessons learned from the accident to make safe nuclear plants even safer. Today's contribution comes from Bill Webster, Executive Vice President, Industry Strategy for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.

U.S. nuclear stations continue to perform at high levels of safety and reliability, as measured by internationally accepted measures of performance. Most notably, as we approached the end of 2015, industry median values for capability factor, forced loss rate, reactor scrams, collective radiation exposure and industrial safety reflect the best-ever performance of America’s nuclear energy industry and exceed the challenging five-year goals set for these indicators in 2010.

Early in the response to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, industry leadership recognized that significant attention and resources were required to fully learn and act upon the lessons from the accident. Industry leaders also recognized this could dilute attention from the operational needs of the stations and committed to prevent operator distraction.

To facilitate this operational focus, the industry continued an on-going initiative to increase the engagement of workers at all levels and to expand their understanding of operational risk and the use of operating experience. This initiative was further expanded to include a focus on reactor operating fundamentals, particularly by the control room crews when responding to complex transient scenarios. Improvements in control room crew teamwork, training, and the timely resolution of equipment issues have contributed to a steady reduction in the number and severity of operational disruptions.

Several new initiatives were undertaken to continuously improve industry performance. Most important was an effort to enhance station and corporate leadership and teamwork through the application of proven leadership and team attributes. Additionally, based on operating experience, the industry began to apply an expanded understanding of integrated risk, including the consideration and interactions between operational, project and enterprise risk. These actions have increased industry self-awareness, as well as the capacity for continuous improvement and organizational learning.

America’s nuclear energy industry has applied the attention and required resources to deeply learn from the accident at Fukushima. Concurrently, industry leaders increased their attention to the operation of the nuclear stations with a resultant steady improvement in plant safety and reliability.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Fukushima Five Years Later: EPRI Software Helps Improve Accident Response Guidelines

Neil Wilmshurst
This week is the fifth anniversary of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To mark the event, we'll be sharing observations from leaders around the nuclear energy industry all week long on how the U.S. has absorbed lessons learned from the accident to make safe nuclear plants even safer. Today's contribution comes from Neil Wilmshurst, Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Even as the events at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were unfolding, the U.S. industry began analyzing the situation and compiling data that would inform the industry’s lessons learned.

The Electric Power Research Institute’s Modular Accident Analysis Program (MAAP) software analyzes the progression of events during an accident. It captures many possible outcomes in a short timeframe. Unlike other codes, MAAP runs faster than accidents progress so it can actually guide emergency responders. Now in its fifth version, the tool has informed changes to industry guidelines that plant operators use to respond to accidents.

Because of Fukushima Daiichi’s rapid power loss, there is virtually no plant data from the accident’s early hours, data critical to understand the incident’s progression. MAAP filled in many data gaps, leading to critical lessons to help the global nuclear industry improve plant design and accident response guidelines.

One lesson from MAAP: Plant operators need a detailed strategy for using portable equipment, such as pumps to inject cooling water into reactors. Portable equipment strategies should buy time for plant operators to retrieve the equipment. For boiling water reactor nuclear plants such as Fukushima, this might involve devising a way for the plant’s existing reactor core isolation cooling system to function temporarily after a loss of power.

Nearly all U.S. companies that operate nuclear plants use MAAP analyses to develop the portable equipment plans they submit to regulators. Lessons from the MAAP Fukushima analyses have been incorporated into the industry’s severe accident management guidelines. That helps reactor operators prepare for and navigate potential accidents.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

STORIFY: Maria Korsnick Talks Regulation, Delivering the Nuclear Promise at RIC 2016

Fukushima Five Years Later: U.S.-Japan Collaboration

Jeff Archie
This week is the fifth anniversary of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To mark the event, we'll be sharing observations from leaders around the nuclear energy industry all week long on how the U.S. has absorbed lessons learned from the accident to make safe nuclear plants even safer. Today's contribution comes from Jeff Archie, Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer of South Carolina Electric & Gas Company.

Chief nuclear officers (CNO) representing U.S. energy companies have collaborated with their Japanese colleagues on leadership, safety and reactor operations during meetings in Japan and the United States and in personal interactions.

Since 2013, more than 30 U.S. CNOs visited the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants in Japan to obtain a greater understanding of the events at each facility after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They met with Japanese CNOs to strengthen support and engagement between the two countries’ nuclear energy programs.

In 2014, a second U.S.-Japanese meeting was held in Arizona. In addition to obtaining updates on safety enhancements in both countries, Japanese executives requested technical exchanges with U.S counterparts at the Sendai and Takahama nuclear facilities. These were conducted in November 2014.

A U.S.-Japanese CNO steering committee is organizing subcommittees on items of mutual interest identified during the Arizona meeting. This steering committee initially met in 2014 by video conference and continues to meet quarterly to discuss industry issues. This collaboration also includes the pairing of Japanese and U.S. electric companies to establish interactions between those companies.

These exchanges in Japan have been beneficial in providing U.S. executives with a visual perspective of the accident’s impact, and access to key management insights, including those of the Fukushima Daini site vice president and Fukushima Daiichi shift supervisor during the 2011 events. Personal relationships built during visits to Japan and through the pairing relationships have resulted in a continuous exchange of information among representatives of the two nations.

EDITOR'S NOTE: NEI Nuclear Notes provided a series of posts covering the 2013 CNO Summit in Japan, including two contributions from NEI COO Maria Korsnick, then serving as Chief Nuclear Officer of Constellation Energy.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Fukushima Five Years Later: SAFER Response Within 24 Hours to Any US Reactor

Michael Pacilio
This week is the fifth anniversary of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To mark the event, we'll be sharing observations from leaders around the nuclear energy industry all week long on how the U.S. has absorbed lessons learned from the accident to make safe nuclear plants even safer. Today's contribution comes from Michael Pacilio, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Exelon Generation.

After the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s acceptance of the industry’s FLEX strategy, the industry immediately began development of a three-phased approach to mitigating beyond-design-basis events.

In phase one, companies would use permanently installed equipment as an initial means of responding to a serious event. The phase two concept drove the acquisition and storage of portable equipment at each nuclear plant site to enhance the station’s coping strategies. Finally, phase three drove the enhancement of existing inter-utility support agreements and the development of independent, national response centers that house portable safety equipment that can be delivered to any nuclear plant site in America within 24 hours.

The nuclear industry jointly established an implementation plan for phase three. Led by the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, inter-utility memorandums of understanding were updated to reflect the need to maintain an inventory of on-site, portable equipment that could be moved from site to site as required. The memorandums also re-enforced personnel support among utilities in need of specific expertise.

This pump delivers 5,000 gallons of water per minute at a pressure of 150 psi.
Through a proposal review and interview process, an industry team competitively selected an organization to procure, house and maintain additional portable safety equipment. The Strategic Alliance for FLEX Emergency Response (SAFER) team, comprised of the Pooled Equipment Inventory Co. and Areva Inc., was selected to manage the project.

The industry determined bounding operational requirements for common equipment and industrywide standards were established for common pump connections and electrical cable connections. Simultaneously, the SAFER organization developed strategies for storage, maintenance and movement of equipment to nuclear plants and created site-specific response playbooks to be used as a common reference for all parties involved in an event response.

Ultimately, national SAFER response centers were established in Memphis, Tennessee and Phoenix, Arizona. The industry signed a contract with FedEx Custom Critical for the movement of equipment from either center to an affected site by road or air. Five complete sets of generic equipment—a robust mix of portable pumps, generators and supporting equipment—are maintained at each center. Additionally, equivalent sets of site-specific equipment were procured for each center.

Transportation of equipment from the centers to facilities in need have been assured by contracts with five commercial helicopter companies as well as utility specific agreements with state Air National Guard units and an overarching letter of agreement established between the NRC and the Department of Defense for use of military helicopters. Any combination of these could be used to support local airlift of equipment if a site becomes isolated from roads during an event.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Decommissioning Nuclear Power Reactors Safely and Efficiently

Rod McCullum
The following is a guest post from Rod McCullum, senior director of used fuel and decommissioning programs at NEI.

In November 2015, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to consider potential new regulations governing the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors. This action came at a time of increasing interest in decommissioning as many reactors are reaching the end of their operating lifespan. Yet, while interest in this topic may be peaking, it is certainly not a new subject. Industry and NRC have, over several decades, established a proven track record of safely taking power reactors out of service. Interest in new regulations at this time stems mainly from a desire to improve efficiency – and not from any identified safety need. This interest will be a topic of discussion at NRC’s upcoming Regulatory Information Conference (RIC), with an entire session on Thursday morning devoted to the potential rulemaking.

In the United States, 11 power reactors have already completed decommissioning. At these sites, radioactive systems and structures have been decontaminated and dismantled, with any remaining low-level radioactive waste shipped off to disposal sites. High-level radioactive waste, in the form of used nuclear fuel, is transferred to independent storage installations where it is kept safe and secure in robust concrete and steel dry cask storage systems. In most cases, dry cask storage is located at the site where the reactor used to be until a permanent disposal facility can be developed. NRC’s regulations have provided outstanding public health and safety protection at these sites. In every case, decommissioning was completed in a safe and environmentally sound manner with funds that had been previously set aside by the owners of the plants when they were operating (as required by NRC financial assurance regulations).

The recently shutdown Crystal River 3 Reactor prepares for decommissioning.
Currently, 18 U.S. reactors are in the process of decommissioning. Many of these are in a period of deferred dismantling known as SAFSTOR. NRC regulations provide for plant owners to choose the SAFSTOR option, placing the plant in a safe secure condition while the natural process of radioactive decay, over time, greatly reduces the amount of radioactivity to be addressed. And while radioactivity is decreasing, funds available to actively dismantle the plant grow by accruing interest. Under SAFSTOR, a plant may take up to 60 years to complete decommissioning, but the process of doing so becomes more efficient.

Between 1998 and 2012, no U.S. power reactors reached the end of lifespan. But in the last three years, five reactors have shut down. While NRC’s regulations for decommissioning had not changed during this time, the regulations for many other things like security and emergency preparedness did – becoming much more complex in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001 and the 2011 Fukushima accident. These changes caused the transition from operating plant to decommissioning status to become more difficult. Plant owners now must seek multiple exemptions from operating plant requirements before they can implement plant changes reflecting the fact that many systems, processes, and procedures are no longer operational. These exemptions typically take 12 to 18 months to obtain at a cost of over $1.5 million and, while exemption requests are under review at NRC, plant owners typically incur over $1 million per month in unnecessary compliance costs.       

Ironically, concerns about increased regulatory workload and costs when shutting down nuclear reactors come at a time when NRC is being called upon to become a leaner and more efficient regulator as the number of operating reactors declines (three more reactors are scheduled to shut down by 2020). The proposed rulemaking is being offered as a potential solution to this problem that could make the decommissioning transition more efficient. But a rulemaking could also be a costly and time consuming process itself. A variety of perspectives on the potential rulemaking are likely to be aired in Thursday’s RIC session. It should be interesting.