Industry trade groups learning lessons from Japan nuclear crisis

Top nuclear industry trade groups are coordinating responses to apply lessons learned from the nuclear crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors in Japan to U.S. plants.

Supported by senior electric utility executives and reactor vendors, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the Electric Power Research Institute will work through a new Fukushima Response Steering Committee to coordinate and oversee response activities, said NEI spokesman Steve Kerekes.

The activities will rely on seven "building blocks" - temporary organizations created to develop and execute action plans in specified areas of focus. Teams will be developed to work on issues and make recommendations to the steering committee, he said.

The work will be done at the same time that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceeds with its inspections and analysis of reactor readiness and safety across the country, but independent of the NRC, said Kerekes and Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman.

"We did it this way in the belief that we need to make sure we've got the wide swath of industry incorporated into this so we don't have gaps or duplicate efforts," Kerekes said. "This is not a competition with the NRC. We feel we should take action, and that's what we're doing."

The building blocks include: maintaining a focus on excellence in plant performance; developing lessons learned from Fukushima events; improving U.S. industry response to global nuclear events; developing a strategic communications plan and the industry's regulatory response; coordinating with international organizations and providing technical support and research coordination.

Key technical areas to be examined across the country include spent fuel pool safety and backup power, Kerekes said.

"Dominion has and will continue to support industry initiatives to improve nuclear safety and provide assistance to Japan in light of the Fukushima event any way we can," said Ken Holt, spokesman for the Millstone nuclear power complex in Waterford.

According to a recent study by the Institute for Policy Studies, Millstone Power Station has the most spent fuel of any reactor site in the country - a total of 6,447 fuel rod assemblies in two operating and one closed reactor.

The spent fuel pool at the Unit 1 reactor sits atop the reactor building, which is a boiling-water reactor design similar to the Fukushima plants. Some of the Fukushima reactors have experienced fires or explosions in their pools in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in March.

Millstone owner Dominion maintains that the fuel rods are safely stored in the Unit 1 spent fuel pools. The fuel is between 16 and 40 years old, so it is much cooler than recently used fuel, said spokesman Holt, and consequently, there is no threat of the water in the spent fuel pool boiling away.

Nonetheless, Holt said in March and reiterated Thursday that the company is actively investigating the steps required to place all of Unit 1's spent fuel in dry cask storage on site. Dominion needs approval from the NRC and the Connecticut Siting Council to add to the dry cask storage already built there.

The added advantage to having the spent fuel in dry storage, where it is cooled by natural air circulation, is that the company would no longer have to maintain the Unit 1 spent fuel pool, Holt said.

p.daddona@theday.com

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