NRC takes a closer look at seismic risk at three plants

The orders for studies are not findings of risk

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set a June 2017 deadline for two of three Western U.S. operating nuclear power plants to conduct in- depth analyses of their updated earthquake risk.turtle

The NRC is requiring Columbia (Benton County, Wash.) and Diablo Canyon (Avila Beach, Calif.) to submit their detailed risk analysis by June 30, 2017.

The NRC continues to examine information from Palo Verde (Wintersburg, Ariz.); if the agency concludes the plant needs the in-depth risk analysis it must complete the work by Dec. 31, 2020. The agency established these due dates after reviewing updated earthquake hazard information from the plants.

The seismic submittals showed all three Western plants’ engineering and construction methods added safety margin beyond their original designs’ anticipated hazards.

“This information shows us how the plants’ new earthquake hazard compares to the ground movement considered in the plants’ original designs,” said Bill Dean, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.

“The evidence we’ve seen so far leaves us confident the plants are safe to continue operating while they do more analysis. If a plant’s new hazard exceeds the original design, that additional analysis will determine if there are any changes in accident risk from an earthquake. Plants must also do shorter-term work to see if they should enhance key safety equipment while the more substantial analysis is being done.”

The sites submitted the earthquake hazard information in March as part of the NRC’s response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. All three plants are already working to comply with the NRC’s March 2012 Orders for additional safety equipment and enhanced spent fuel pool monitoring.

Columbia is working to comply with a third March 2012 Order, updated in 2013, requiring hardened venting systems to safely relieve pressure if an accident occurs.

NRC Turns Down Request To Shut Down Diablo Canyon

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this week it denied a request from Friends of the Earth to shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo, California. The group claims the plant is a catastrophe waiting to happen due to earthquake risks.

According to media reports, PG&E asserted that the plant is safe from the threat of earthquakes. Friends of the Earth, in turn, said the 12-page ruling was a “turning point” in what has been a prolonged battle over the plant’s safety related to any potential seismic threat. Since the plant is staying open, it is hard to see how FOE can claim a victory.

At issue was whether or not PG&E was concealing risks to the plant from the public. Clearly, the NRC disagrees with the claims by Friends of the Earth on this issue.

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