- Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority is investigating whether Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi nuclear plant—the only operating facility in the country—is on an active fault line. The NRA heard last week from a group of experts who have surveyed the fissure. The agency has yet to decide whether the fissure in a 125,000-year-old rock stratum came from seismic activity or if it was caused by a landslide. The Japanese government bans nuclear plant operators from building facilities directly above active fault lines. The NRA said if the Ohi fissure is confirmed to be an active fault, it will halt the plant’s operations.
- The 34 U.S. nuclear energy facilities in the path of Hurricane Sandy last week—in locations from South Carolina to Vermont—responded safely to the vast storm, demonstrating their resilience against severe natural forces. Twenty-four reactors continued to operate safely and generate electricity throughout the event. Seven were already shut down for refueling or inspection, and three in New Jersey and New York safely shut down as designed because of storm conditions or grid disturbances. The nuclear industry’s response capability against extreme natural events is emphasized in this graphic.
- NRC staff told the agency’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards Nov. 1 that they plan to recommend requiring the 31 U.S. boiling water reactors with General Electric Mark I and Mark II containment designs to be retrofitted with external vent filters. The staff said the filters would be a “substantial safety enhancement” in retaining radioactive materials during venting in a severe accident. The containments are similar to those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The staff will present its recommendations in a paper for the commission by the end of the month. Steven Kraft, NEI’s senior director for Fukushima response coordination, told meeting attendees the industry supports performance-based standards that would allow individual facilities to determine whether to use filters or alternate strategies.
- Tokyo Electric Power Co. last week successfully used balloon-mounted instruments to investigate the upper floors of Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 for the first time since the accident. A TEPCO video clip shows that the fuel handling crane remains intact and has not fallen into the spent fuel storage pool. An attempt in August to deploy the balloon was unsuccessful when it became snagged on debris. TEPCO will use the information to eventually decommission the reactor.
- Last week’s release of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s new emergency preparedness guidelines were widely reported by the Japanese media, including The Daily Yomiuri (here and here) and The Japan Times. NRA’s new emergency planning zones, in line with International Atomic Energy Agency standards, call for “precautionary action zones” 5 kilometers (3 miles) around nuclear energy facilities and “urgent protective action planning zones” 18 miles around the plants. By the end of the year NRA will draw up specific evacuation criteria, which local municipalities will use to formulate emergency response plans by March.
- An article in Forbes observes that U.S. nuclear energy facilities are the most robust and well-prepared of any vital national infrastructure in the face of extreme natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.
- The Washington Examiner, commenting on Hitachi’s purchase of Britain’s Horizon Nuclear Power project from its German investors, said all Japan’s electric equipment manufacturing companies “appear committed to pursuing nuclear projects” worldwide, even as phasing out the country’s domestic use of nuclear energy is under consideration.
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a webinar Nov. 5 on developing guidance for screening and prioritization for seismic re-evaluations recommended by the agency’s Fukushima near-term task force.
- The NRC will hold a meeting Nov. 8 on the Fukushima task force’s recommendation on improving the regulatory framework.