One year after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan, the U.S. nuclear energy industry has begun acquiring additional safety equipment as part of a “diverse and flexible” response strategy that is generally aligned with the near-term priorities identified by the independent federal agency that oversees the industry, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The industry’s “FLEX” response strategy, outlined for reporters at a Nuclear Energy Institute news conference today, addresses the major challenges encountered at the Fukushima Daiichi power station following the double-hit of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami: the loss of power to maintain effective reactor cooling in three of the facility’s six reactors.
Additional on-site portable equipment is being acquired to help ensure that every U.S. nuclear energy facility can respond safely to extreme events, no matter what the cause. The equipment ranges from diesel-driven pumps and electric generators to ventilation fans, hoses, fittings, cables and satellite communications gear. It also includes support materials for emergency responders, including food, water and other supplies.
The additional equipment is being acquired under an initiative approved unanimously last month by U.S. industry’s chief nuclear officers. The initiative commits every U.S. company operating a nuclear energy facility to order or enter into contract for a plant-specific list of emergency equipment by March 31.
“Nuclear energy remains a vital part of the U.S. electricity portfolio, in part because our industry has a history of seeking and making continuous safety improvements. To maintain the highest levels of safety at every one of our facilities, we have worked proactively almost from the moment the tsunami struck Japan to capture and apply lessons learned. The FLEX strategy is a tangible byproduct of this ongoing effort,” said Charles Pardee, who chairs the industry’s Fukushima Response Steering Committee. Pardee is the chief operating officer for Exelon Generation Co.
Companies that operate America’s nuclear energy facilities already have acquired or ordered more than 300 pieces of major equipment to supplement layer upon layer of safety at the nation’s commercial reactors. These measures will supplement other emergency equipment acquired by the industry following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help facilities safely respond to large fires and explosions. The new equipment will be stored at diverse locations and protected to ensure that it can be used if other systems that comprise a facility’s multi-layered safety strategy are compromised.
“If nuclear power plants lose power from the grid and other sources, the additional portable equipment will provide power and water to maintain key safety functions—reactor core cooling, used fuel pool cooling and containment integrity,” said Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.
The FLEX strategy has been well received by the NRC in recognition that it provides safety benefits while other regulatory issues are being assessed and resolved, Pietrangelo said.
Industry actions leading up to the approval of the equipment procurement initiative included the formation of a “Way Forward” framework—overseen by the Fukushima Steering Committee—and the compilation of a detailed chronological timeline of the first four days of events at Fukushima after the tsunami hit. The Way Forward framework is supported by senior electric utility executives and reactor vendors, NEI, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the Electric Power Research Institute.
Nuclear energy facilities operating in 31 states supply electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. The NRC’s special task force on Fukushima concluded in its 90-day report to the commission last July that, “continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to the public health and safety and are not inimical to the common defense and security.”
“We know we need to learn every possible lesson from Japan, and apply those lessons immediately and in the long term at American nuclear energy facilities,” Pietrangelo added. “It’s our job to continue to raise the high standards we have in place by learning from Fukushima. Now is not the time to reverse the progress we’ve made toward a more energy-independent future. We should apply every lesson possible from Japan here in America, while moving ahead with the next generation of nuclear energy facilities. And with the recent approval from the NRC to move forward with building new nuclear energy facilities, we have the opportunity to do both.”