WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Nuclear Energy Institute today announced the industry’s unanimous approval of a voluntary policy to better manage issues related to the integrity of underground piping at nuclear power plants.
NEI has informed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the action in a letter stating that the initiative calls for a proactive approach for managing the reliability of underground piping with a goal of protecting structural integrity and preventing leaks. The initiative, approved by the industry’s chief nuclear officers, places a special emphasis on piping that contains radioactive materials.
The initiative encompasses pipe used in several applications at nuclear energy facilities: safety-related pipe, non-safety-related pipe that carries fluids with radioactive content; and other pipes that convey non-safety-related water systems, fuel oils, gas or other substances.
The underground piping integrity initiative commits the industry to a series of actions to establish more frequent inspection and enhance dependability of underground piping:
• By June 30, 2010, companies will establish clear roles and responsibilities, including senior-level accountability, for the program.
• By Dec. 31, 2010, companies will establish a “risk ranking” of underground piping that accounts for pipe function, pipe locations and layout, and pipe materials and design. This will include a database to track key program data, inspection results and trends.
• By June 30, 2011, companies will develop an inspection plan to maintain the dependability of underground piping, including potential inspection techniques and an inspection schedule for buried piping segments based on the risk ranking.
• Implementation of the inspection plan will start no later than June 30, 2012.
The new industrywide program recognizes that, even though periodic leaks from piping have not jeopardized public health, the industry should adopt a higher standard of performance to prevent leaks that goes beyond what NRC regulations require, said Alex Marion, NEI’s vice president for nuclear operations.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has publicly affirmed that instances of leakage from underground piping have not put public health and safety at risk. Still, the companies that operate nuclear power plants believe they have a responsibility as good corporate citizens to improve the management of underground piping issues. Improved detection, maintenance and repair, and communication are part of maintaining public trust and confidence in the safe operation of nuclear energy facilities at high levels,” Marion said.
Successful implementation will be achieved through effective coordination with the Electric Power Research Institute and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which will provide support to electric utility members, he said.
The new initiative is part of a commitment by the industry to assure the integrity and safety of various operating systems at 104 nuclear power plants, which produce 20 percent of U.S. electricity. The industry has invested approximately $350 million in nuclear plant materials assurance programs since 2003.
The new underground piping initiative is similar in concept to the groundwater protection program that the industry adopted in 2006 and that remains in place, Marion said. Under the groundwater protection initiative, the industry implemented company- or site-specific action plans to assure timely detection and effective response to inadvertent radiological releases in groundwater. This was done in part to prevent migration of even very low levels of tritium, a weak radioactive form of hydrogen, from plant sites and to quantify potential impacts on the eventual decommissioning of nuclear energy facilities.