TOKYO—The chief nuclear officers representing all of America’s operating commercial nuclear energy facilities today concluded a week of safety-focused dialogue and nuclear plant visits that included tours of the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini plant sites. The unprecedented collective exchange among 24 U.S. chief nuclear officers and their Japanese counterparts was conducted so the American contingent could see first-hand the impact of the 2011 Fukushima event, as well to facilitate lesson sharing and discuss ways to improve safety within the U.S. and Japan nuclear energy sectors.
“Engaging with our Japanese counterparts and visiting Fukushima has had a profound impact on us,” said Anthony Pietrangelo, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, at a news conference today concluding the visit. “U.S. chief nuclear officers met with shift managers and control room operators at both Daini and Daiichi stations who were on duty at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, and gained insights into conditions at the plants. We sought, and received, first-hand accounts from site personnel here of the experience and all of its challenge and uncertainty.
“Seeing the devastation in person provides a greater understanding of the significance of the event and its effect on people in the area.”
The visit to Japan was coordinated by the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) in cooperation with the Japan Nuclear Safety Institute. INPO was established after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident to help the U.S. nuclear energy industry set and achieve the highest standards of safety and excellence in operational performance. INPO’s formation is widely acknowledged as a reason that U.S. nuclear energy facilities achieved the improvements in safety and reliability that for the past two decades have enabled nuclear energy to maintain a 20 percent share of U.S. electricity production even as the nation’s electricity demand has grown by 150 percent, to four million megawatt-hours of electricity annually.
“Because safety is our top priority, this week’s experience and dialogue has been immensely valuable for the American industry. I believe it has been helpful for our Japanese colleagues as well,” Pietrangelo said. “We have had frank exchanges and laid the foundation for future dialogue that must remain equally candid so that we can continuously improve.”
The CNOs also had in-depth discussions about what has been done to enhance safety at U.S. facilities since the accident and how to meet and overcome the challenges that remain. Among the discussion items was the U.S. nuclear industry’s voluntary implementation of additional safety measures, known as FLEX, with new U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements to protect the plants against extreme events.
Jim Scarola of Duke Energy Corp., on loan to NEI as executive director, U.S. Industry Fukushima Response, explained during the news conference that the FLEX approach is a tailored, comprehensive strategy for coping with extreme events. The heart of this effort is adding more portable, backup safety equipment at each reactor. More than 1,500 pieces of equipment have been acquired or ordered, including portable generators, diesel-driven pumps and satellite phones. The additional portable equipment will provide power and water to maintain key safety functions in the absence of AC power and heat transfer capability from permanently installed safety systems. These functions are reactor core cooling, used fuel pool cooling and containment integrity.
In addition to new equipment being placed at all U.S. reactors, the industry is developing regional response centers in Memphis and Phoenix that will serve as dispatch points for additional equipment and resources. The regional response centers will be capable of delivering another full set of portable safety equipment, radiation protection equipment, electrical generators, pumps and other emergency response equipment to an affected site within 24 hours after an extreme event.
“While the tsunami and resulting impact on the people of Japan have clearly been devastating, the lessons must become a catalyst for raising safety standards, behaviors, and emergency response capability in all nations,” Scarola said.