safety

Recent media reports accusing the nuclear energy industry of opposing the installation of filtered vents on Mark I and II boiling water reactors (BWRs) are incorrect. What is really at stake is taking the most meaningful steps at nuclear plants to prevent and manage an accident like the one at Fukushima.

The nuclear energy industry continues to learn a great deal about what happened at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, and is applying the lessons to make America’s nuclear plants even safer.

Commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. must be able to prevent and manage an accident like the one at Fukushima.

Clearly, the best way is to not have an accident in the first place.  As documented in a report by an independent commission of Japan’s national legislature, U.S. plants are much better regulated, run and prepared than their counterparts in Japan.  In addition to the myriad systems installed in U.S. plants to prevent accidents and cope with a severe accident, U.S. plants have become even better prepared since the Fukushima accident.  Even if all installed cooling systems were to fail, new portable power and water systems will cool the reactor core and protect spent uranium fuel in storage pools at the facility.  These new systems—part of a new diverse and flexible safety strategy (FLEX)—also include additional pre-staged pumps, generators, and other equipment at other nuclear plants and two new regional response centers.

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Representatives of the nuclear energy industry once again this week asked the NRC to adopt a performance-based approach to minimize the release of radioactivity from damaged fuel in a severe accident, while agency staff reiterated its earlier recommendation to require external filters for the containment vents of early-model boiling water reactors.

“A performance-based approach to filtration provides the greatest overall improvement in plant safety with sufficient filtration,” said Maria Korsnick, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group’s chief nuclear officer and chief operating officer. “The industry approach has the advantage of retaining the filtered radionuclides in containment. The desire is to prevent land contamination.”

Korsnick added that a performance-based approach that would specify results rather than methods to attain them would require plant-specific analyses. She noted that the NRC’s independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards “supports this approach”.

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NRC staff has recommended requiring engineered filters to the containment vents for early-model boiling water reactors as a post-Fukushima response.

A staff paper (SECY-12-0157) released this week for the commission’s consideration said an alternative performance-based approach to filtering preferred by industry and by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards would work but take too long to implement.

The commission had directed agency staff (SRM-SECY-11-0137) to consider whether adding external filters at the same time as reliable hardened containment vents for Mark I and II boiling water reactors would help limit significant radiation releases from severe accidents.

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Activity ID: 1002943 Activity Name: NEI Remarketing Safety Activity Group Name: Remarketing Safety First