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NRC Upbeat on Fukushima Regulatory Response

Aug. 28, 2013—Senior NRC staff said last week that the regulatory responses to the Fukushima accident are proceeding well and expressed optimism about the safety benefits of the industry’s FLEX severe accident mitigation strategy.

“Our next milestone in the seismic re-evaluation schedule is the submittal of information regarding site characterization for central and eastern U.S. plants by mid-September,” Eric Leeds, director of the NRC office of nuclear reactor regulation, said at an Aug. 22 joint meeting of industry and NRC Fukushima response steering committees.

“[We plan] to complete the seismic hazard revaluations for central and eastern U.S. plants in the spring of 2014. The flooding [hazard] re-evaluations … are also proceeding well,” Leeds said.

Jim Scarola, executive director and chairman of the industry’s Fukushima response steering committee, said that the industry’s FLEX strategy for coping with severe, beyond-design-basis accidents should remain the cornerstone for how nuclear power plants respond to extreme events.

“As we have new information it has to be reflected on in the light of our FLEX strategy,” said Scarola. “FLEX has to be the foundation for the way in which we deal with extreme [events].”

The FLEX strategy addresses critical problems that might be encountered due to severe external events—loss of power and reactor cooling—through the use of backup emergency equipment such as generators, battery packs, pumps, air compressors and battery chargers.

“We’re very bullish on mitigating strategies; we’re bullish on the FLEX concept,” Leeds said. “We think it has a huge safety payoff. We’re putting together a dedicated review team to get through this.”  

Jack Davis, who will lead a new NRC directorate for mitigating strategies, said the agency is “on a good path” on industry responses to generic requests for additional information on implementing the FLEX strategy (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Aug. 15).

“There’s a resolution path for a majority of those issues. There are probably a few that this group should keep an eye on over the next several months because there are some differing views [between the agency and industry],” said Davis. “I think we’re going to get to the right place on those.” 

Industry representatives asked whether the NRC has adequate resources to complete its regulatory reviews on schedule—including on the seismic and flooding re-evaluations and the requests for information on FLEX. Michael Johnson, NRC deputy executive director for reactor and preparedness programs, responded in the affirmative.  

“We are continually mindful of what the workload is going to look like and we’re going to be ready to deal with that workload,” Johnson said.