Saturday, October 29, 2011

US Industry Response to Fukushima:

A Status Report

On October 12, 2011, Anthony Pietrangelo, Senior VP and CNO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), made a presentation to the Washington, DC Section of the American Nuclear Society (ANS). The talk was entitled "US Industry Leadership in Response to Events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant." I have tried to make it a practice to provide summaries of nuclear- and energy-related events in the Washington, DC area that I attended--at least when I find something worth reporting--and I want to continue that practice by providing some highlights of Tony's talk. (I should note that part of my delay in publishing this post was that I waited until the ANS Section posted the viewgraphs. This is the first chance I've had to publish my post since the viewgraphs went up.)

Tony started the meeting by noting that, even outside the concerns about Fukushima, nuclear plants in the US have faced an unusual number of natural challenges this year. He mentioned the tornadoes in the path of Browns Ferry and Surry, the flooding at Ft. Calhoun, the earthquake near North Anna, and the hurricane that swept past a number of nuclear plants.

He also provided some statistics on NEI's outreach in the aftermath of Fukushima. Among their activities were a conference call with hundreds of financial people and a hundred-fold increase in the number of hits on their website.

The bulk of his talk discussed some of the activities and plans of 3 key industry groups: NEI, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Key facts about the activities of these groups are highlighted in his viewgraphs.

To me, some of his most interesting comments were his relatively positive views of the response from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the public. Among his observations were the following:

• Since March 11, 2011, there have been 5 license renewals at US plants, including Vermont Yankee, Palo Verde, Prairie Island, and Hope Creek

• There have been 2 power uprates (increases in the maximum power level at which the reactor is licensed to operate)--Limerick and Point Beach

• Final Environmental Impact Statements (FEIS) have been completed on 7 new reactors in Georgie, South Carolina, Texas and Maryland

• The Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER) has been issued for the ESBWR

• Construction-related activities are taking place at Watts Bar, Vogtle, and V.C. Summer

• Public opinion, while down somewhat, is still favorable to nuclear power.

One interesting observation he made is that the NEI has shifted the focus of its public relations efforts. Early on, they focused on safety, but more recently, had been focusing on the environment, cost, and jobs. They have now shifted back to a focus on safety.

Tony fielded a lot of questions during the Q&A session that followed his talk. I can't go into all of them, but he pointed out some of the differences in procedures and requirements for hardened vents for US BWRs versus for those in Japan. Some of the questioners were particularly concerned that the industry initiative could get ahead of the NRC and that NRC might later impose additional, or different, requirements. Tony indicated that they were working closely with the NRC and wouldn't be getting too far ahead.

Tony also noted lessons learned that have been implemented in the industry in response to past events that he thinks will serve us well in responding to the Fukushima experience. In particular, he noted that some of the equipment intended to respond to a 9/11 type event could also be used for natural disasters. He referred to the current approach as "symptom-based and event-informed," in contrast with the historic event-based approach. The symptom-based approach facilitates such actions as using "9/11 equipment" to respond to, for example, a station blackout triggered by some other type of event.

I'm sure we will be hearing much more about the industry activities in the weeks and months ahead. From what was presented at this meeting, it looks like the industry is off to a very good start.


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