The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan led to a severe accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. Within days, the U.S. nuclear energy industry began taking steps based on lessons learned from the events in Japan to further enhance the safety of American reactors.
The U.S. nuclear energy industry responded within days of the accident in Japan, inspecting plants to ensure they could withstand similar extreme natural events. In addition, the entire industry adopted a strategy to ensure that lessons learned in Japan are applied quickly and effectively at America’s reactors. This “FLEX” strategy addresses the major problems encountered in Japan—the loss of power to maintain effective cooling—by stationing another layer of backup equipment in multiple locations, both at plant sites and at new regional response centers in Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix. The equipment ranges from diesel-driven pumps and electric generators to ventilation fans, hoses, fittings, cables and communications gear. The new equipment will be stored at diverse locations at the sites and protected to ensure that it can be used if other systems that compose a facility’s multi-layered safety strategy are compromised. This flexible approach builds on existing safety systems to protect against unforeseen events of all kinds.
Most of the additional equipment is in place at plant sites. The regional response center in Memphis is being stocked with equipment, and the Phoenix center is in development. The industry’s plans call for transporting equipment to a plant site by truck or helicopter, as needed, depending on the condition of roads and other infrastructure after an earthquake.
Following its evaluation of American facilities, the independent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared that the plants pose no imminent danger. To further strengthen plants’ ability to withstand extreme events, the agency required that U.S. facilities install additional instruments to monitor used fuel storage pools, develop strategies to prevent damage from external events that may affect multiple reactors at a site and, for some reactors, install hardened vents. The NRC also asked for more information on seismic and flooding issues, availability of communications equipment, and emergency response staffing for incidents that affect multiple reactors. In 2013, the NRC found that these enhancements were making U.S. nuclear plants even safer.
2013 U.S.-Japan CNO Summit
During the week of Sept. 8, 2013, a delegation of nearly 30 American chief nuclear officers (CNOs) traveled to Japan to meet with their Japanese CNO counterparts. Delegation members shared their impressions and lessons learned from this historic trip on the NEI Nuclear Notes blog and in video interviews.
Watch the interview below with Jeff Forbes, executive vice president and CNO of Entergy Nuclear, who described his visit to Fukushima as "very powerful."
Hear from Peter Sena, President and CNO of FirstEnergy Nuclear, who reflected on his time in Japan and noted that working in the industry is personal, not just business.
Take a look at our Storify to see all of the online activities around the U.S.-Japan CNO Summit.