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NEI, NRC Share Fukushima Lessons With NAS Study Panel

The following story originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.

NEI and NRC representatives told a National Academy of Sciences panel that the industry is making steady progress in implementing lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. The NAS is conducting a technical study of the accident, sponsored by the NRC.

NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said that the industry’s primary lesson learned is to ensure the continued availability of electricity and cooling water at nuclear energy facility sites in the aftermath of a severe event.

“We need equipment on site that is portable. We need it to be diverse—so that we have chargers, generators, diesel-driven pumps—and we have pre-planned various locations [from which to] get water into reactor containments, vessels and [used fuel] pools. So that under any event, we are able to get water to those places and maintain containment integrity,” Fertel said. “We took what we learned from 9/11 and said: ‘We need to do that, but much more robustly.’”

Fertel said the industry is moving forward “very aggressively” to implement its “FLEX” strategy of adding diverse, portable backup safety equipment at U.S. reactors and has procured more than 400 pieces of equipment.

He also told the committee the used fuel storage pools at Fukushima Daiichi performed well, despite reports shortly after the accident that the pools may have been damaged.

“We were concerned about the pools,” Fertel said. “It turns out that the unit 4 pool was a lot more robust [than thought] … As best we can tell today, there’s been no damage to the fuel in the pool.”

Fertel also contrasted reactor operating differences between the United States and Japan, with one key difference being the extent of training for U.S. reactor operators.

“Our operators are trained much more rigorously,” Fertel said. “As a result of the lessons learned from Three Mile Island, when we had very few training simulators in this country, we now have a plant-specific simulator at every site. And the operators are in training every fifth or sixth week.”

A difference in operational procedures between the two countries is the timing of venting to relieve containment pressure in the event of a loss of cooling in a severe accident.

“The [Japanese operators] did not vent early,” Fertel said. “Our operators and emergency procedures [for boiling water reactors] call for venting early. The objective is to protect containment and the reactor and vent early in a controlled way.”

Mike Johnson, NRC deputy executive director for reactor and preparedness programs, said the NRC is “making steady progress and we’re meeting established schedules” in implementing the agency’s recommendations.

Johnson made clear there is a distinction between the agency’s 2012 requirement that certain boiling water reactors install reliable, hardened containment vents and the continuing discussion on whether all reactor vents should be filtered. “We will provide the commission with a set of options and a recommended approach in November,” Johnson said.

The makeup of the NAS committee charged with conducting the NRC-sponsored study should be finalized shortly. The study report is scheduled to be made available to Congress and the NRC in April 2014 and to the public shortly thereafter.

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