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NEI Urges NRC to Focus on Top-Priority Issues From Fukushima

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

NEI urged the NRC to focus on high-priority “Tier 1” recommendations from the agency’s Fukushima task force report at a meeting at NRC headquarters last week attended by NEI’s Fukushima Steering Committee and agency staff.

“The key to success has to continue to be the ability to prioritize the most significant lessons learned from Fukushima and execute [in response to] them,” said Jim Scarola, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of Progress Energy. “We have to recognize that not only is there an aggregate benefit; there is an aggregate burden. We have to make sure to focus that burden for the greatest benefit.”

NRC staff acknowledged that the high-priority, Tier 1 recommendations would give the greatest safety benefit, but said the agency was making plans to move ahead with Tier 2 and 3 recommendations from the report as well.

“The staff is committed to work through all three tiers,” said James Wiggins, director of the Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response at the NRC. “We generally, largely agree that Tier 1 is where you get the most value. If you look at the definition of Tier 1, that’s perfectly consistent with it.”

Michael Johnson, deputy executive director for reactor and preparedness programs at the NRC, said the agency did not want to “distract” the industry from implementing Tier 1 recommendations, but that the agency was making plans to move forward on lower-priority recommendations.

“The focus on Tier 3 is to have established plans for moving forward, recognizing again with Tier 2 and 3, that we don’t want to take away the focus and drive to make sure that we move forward expeditiously with Tier 1,” Johnson said.

Last July, the NRC Near-Term Task Force report on post-Fukushima actions made 12 recommendations for enhancing safety. The staff prioritized the recommendations into three tiers depending on their relative safety benefits and the availability of information and critical skill sets needed to implement them.

To address the highest-priority recommendations—categorized as Tier 1—the NRC this March ordered enhanced protection of portable emergency equipment through mitigating strategies, together with hardened containment vents for some reactors and additional instrumentation for monitoring the water level in used fuel pools.

At the meeting, NRC staff gave a brief status report on the progress of each of the Tier 1 orders. Eric Leeds, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation at the NRC, said that industry and the NRC found much in common on the industry’s FLEX strategy, which responds to the NRC’s order on mitigating strategies.

“We’re very close to reaching alignment on the characteristics of what a successful implementation of this strategy should be,” Leeds said.

He added that the industry and the agency still had to reach alignment on a handful of technical issues related to FLEX.

Industry and NRC staff also agreed that they had reached a great deal of consensus on the recommendations concerning hardened vents and used fuel pool instrumentation.

As the discussion continued, NRC staff acknowledged the receipt of a letter from industry on the appropriateness of filtered vents for certain reactors. The staff asked for more details on alternatives to filters before it sends a paper to the commission in July on filtered vents for BWR Mark I and Mark II containments.

“The industry to date has not provided the staff with alternatives, or a technical rationale as to why or how you want to proceed,” Leeds said. “Absent that, we can’t do an assessment and provide it to the commission in our July paper.”

Industry representatives said that detailed discussion on the question of filtered vents had just begun.

“We have had some technical discussions with members of your staff,” said Maria Korsnick, chief nuclear officer and chief operating officer of Constellation Energy Nuclear Group. “We want to make sure that the holistic approach of preventing land contamination opens the door to more consideration than simply putting a filter on a vent.”

Korsnick added that the industry had completed some analytical work on filtered vents but that “it’s not analysis that you do in a matter of weeks.”

Dave Heacock, president and chief nuclear officer of Dominion Nuclear, said that no single Fukushima recommendation should be considered in isolation from the rest and that any discussion of filtered vents should consider the issue holistically and in light of other safety enhancements.

“FLEX can have a tremendous benefit in this area,” Heacock said. “We have a tendency to have silos of excellence where each group looks at their area independently. But it’s important to look at what comes before and see what the cumulative benefit has been and then analyze each of the subsequent ones with respect to the cumulative benefit that has already occurred.”

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