National Academy of Sciences Report Affirms US Nuclear Plant Safety

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WASHINGTON, July 24, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) assessment examining the causes of and lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is notable for the extent to which it affirms the culture of safety adhered to by the U.S. nuclear industry.

Core findings from the NAS study, "Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving the Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants," validate the actions that the U.S. industry has initiated in recent years and that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is requiring to be ready to manage plants if extreme natural events occur that may exceed a plant's design basis.

"The U.S. nuclear energy industry began taking steps within days of the Fukushima Daiichi accident to ensure that U.S. reactors could respond to events that may challenge safe operation of the facilities," said Anthony Pietrangelo, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute. Safety enhancements the industry has completed over the past three years include:

  • Implementing a diverse and flexible coping capability, or "FLEX," an effective, efficient and reliable way to make U.S. nuclear energy facilities even safer. FLEX addresses the critical problems encountered at Fukushima Daiichi: loss of power with reactor and spent fuel pool cooling capability. It provides an additional layer of backup power and water after an extreme event by stationing vital emergency equipment—generators, battery packs, pumps, air compressors and battery chargers—in multiple locations.
  • Opening two National Response Centers, in Phoenix and Memphis, Tenn., capable of delivering complete sets of emergency equipment to help facilities respond safely to extreme events no matter what causes them. Equipment at the response centers supplements permanent safety systems built into nuclear energy facilities and multiple sets of portable, backup safety equipment already positioned at the facilities.
  • Ensuring that storage pools for used nuclear fuel rods are protected at all times, including adding backup sources of cooling water.

NAS' report raises some concern with respect to its treatment of nuclear energy facilities' emergency preparedness in the U.S. The report authors acknowledge that they did not have "the time or resources to perform an in-depth examination of U.S. preparedness for severe nuclear accidents." The U.S. nuclear industry and its regulator, the NRC, have. In the U.S., emergency planning and preparedness in areas around nuclear power facilities has been a collaborative effort between utilities, state and local jurisdictions, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more than three decades. And the effectiveness of industry's emergency preparedness plans has been real-world-tested.

In 2007, wildfires ravaged 380,000 acres of California and prompted the evacuation of 300,000 people. During the evacuation of areas around the San Onofre nuclear energy facility, state and local emergency responders drew upon the relationships and communications links established through their experience with nuclear energy facility emergency preparedness.

As the knowledge and analyses of severe natural events increases, the U.S. nuclear energy industry is re-examining the impact of earthquakes and floods and taking measures to keep these facilities safe.

"We are an industry of continuous learnings, and the past three years bear that out," Pietrangelo said. "Simply put, we cannot let such an accident happen here."

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Source:Nuclear Energy Institute