Nuclear upgrades ordered by NRC

Just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Friday that it will order the nation's nuclear power plants to enhance safety by upgrading equipment and operations in seven areas.

Six of the areas apply to the two working reactors at the Millstone Power Station in Waterford. The seventh applies to boiling water reactors similar to the Japanese plant. The operating Millstone plants are a different design.

Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, in which a massive earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns in the cores of three reactors and large radiation releases.

Ken Holt, spokesman for Millstone owner Dominion, said a team assembled after the Fukushima disaster has already been working on all the areas in the NRC orders. The NRC said it will issue detailed instructions next week on how plants should come into compliance with the orders. Plants will be expected to come into full compliance within five years, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

The orders grew out of recommendations by an NRC task force that examined the Fukushima disaster and what lessons could be learned for U.S. plants. The analysis will continue, Sheehan said.

"By no means are we done," he said. "We're just getting started."

NRC's announcement Friday provided plants with a basic outline of the areas that will be addressed in the detailed orders issued next week.

Holt said Millstone completed the newly required earthquake and flooding "walkdowns" immediately after the Fukushima disaster.

"But we'll continue to look at those areas," he said.

It also has already purchased additional portable generators and other equipment to better enable the plants to sustain safety operations during an extended power outage, as part of the nuclear industrywide "FLEX" initiative in response to Fukushima. Holt said the new equipment will also ensure that cooling water will continue to be available during a power outage.

One area being assessed, Holt said, is whether storage of the emergency generators and other equipment will need to be changed to protect it from flooding and earthquake damage.

"We may need to construct additional buildings, or repurpose some existing ones," he said.

Millstone is prepared to fully comply with all the orders by whatever deadlines the NRC sets in its orders next week, Holt said.

"Nothing's unexpected," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

THE NRC'S ORDERS

The nation's nuclear plants are being required to:

• Improve protection and storage of safety equipment such as backup generators against flooding and earthquake damage.

• Purchase additional safetly equipment to ensure plants can respond to more than one emergency at multiple plants simultaneously.

• Install enhanced equipment to monitor water levels in spent fuel pools.

• Perform a new analysis of earthquake and flooding risks.

• Conduct earthquake and flooding "walkdowns," in which engineers assess a plant's ability to withstand a flood or earthquake.

• Assess the ability of communication systems and equipment to perform after a plant sustains damage and looses power for an extended period.

• Determine whether staffing levels for emergencies need to be increased.

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