Fukushima nuclear tragedy leaves lasting mark at Millstone

Waterford - Though it happened more than 6,000 miles away, the disaster last year at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has had a significant impact at the Millstone Power Station that will continue into the foreseeable future.

"We're still learning from that event," said Ken Holt, Millstone spokesman for Dominion, which owns the Waterford complex. "It has brought a different level of reality to our safety drills and served to remind all of us of the power of nature."

On site before the disaster were diesel power generators and sufficient fuel supply to run essential safety systems at the two operating plants for more than three days, Holt said. The backup power would be needed to keep the reactor and spent-fuel pools from overheating. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Millstone has purchased additional portable generators, pumps, cables and other equipment so the plant can better withstand an extended power outage. Additional purchases are planned.

Like other nuclear plants around the country, Millstone is awaiting new orders from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, expected later this week. But Millstone officials already are considering increasing the amount of diesel fuel stored on site, Holt said, and has reviewed the ways diesel could be delivered if the backup systems are needed for an extended period. For example, if a hurricane closed roadways and downed power lines, fuel could be brought in by barge to docks at Millstone's Long Island Sound property or via a rail line that runs through the property.

"We have multiple ways to get supplies in," Holt said.

Millstone successfully implemented emergency procedures during Tropical Storm Irene this fall and during past hurricanes, he added. The plant's emergency procedures are written to handle a Category 3 hurricane, but additional "beyond design" safety systems are being added, he said.

The plant also has purchased a Caterpillar loader so fallen trees or other hurricane debris that blocked access to the plant could be cleared, Holt said.

The plant also has conducted post-Fukushima inspection of emergency equipment, Holt said. Additional supplies of bottled water, food, cots and other supplies have been stockpiled at the plant for workers who would need to stay during an emergency, he added.

Though the plant is not located in a seismicly active area, earthquake protections are being re-evaluated, Holt said, as are flooding and storm-surge protections. The NRC is expected to begin requiring plants to update periodically flood and storm surge planning and protection to account for rising sea levels.

Holt said the Unit 2 and Unit 3 plants are 14 feet and 25 feet above sea level, respectively, so Millstone officials believe existing flood barriers are adequate.

The Fukushima disaster also has brought new attention to the on-site storage of used fuel. Holt said even before the events in Japan, Millstone had been evaluating whether to move some of the spent fuel out of storage pools into dry-cask storage, which is considered safer in a disaster. That is one of the steps the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear industry watchdog group, has called on the NRC to require of all plants.

j.benson@theday.com

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