It is always good when a meeting about safety at the nuclear power plant in Waterford is boring.
The Nuclear Regulatory Committee, which is charged with regulating Millstone, explained what it knows happened in Japan, and then took questions from the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee and its biggest opponent Wednesday night, all without much controversy. Donald Jackson, branch chief of reactor projects for NRC’s Region One, summed all of it up in one comment to Nancy Burton, Millstone’s biggest critic.
“I never said that everything at Millstone was rosy,” Jackson said. “I said everything at Millstone is safe.”
At a meeting in April, Burton and a few others questioned Dominion about keeping spent fuel inside Unit One, which hasn’t been in use since 1998. If power is cut off to the station, so no water can cool the fuel, it can boil over and create problems similar to Fukushima, Japan.
Jackson was quick to shut that argument down. Active spent fuel, even without water, would take a week of no water cooling before it could create a problem, he said.
Unit One’s spent fuel is almost 13 years old. It could take a month or more of that fuel without water to cause any real problems, and in that time the power station could easily regain power to the site and cool the fuel, he said.
Other issues with Japan were that the backup generators were underground, Jackson said. When the tsunami came, it destroyed the generators, he said.
Millstone’s backup generators are between 10 and 25 feet above sea level, and protected against floods, Senior Resident Inspector Steve Shaffer said. The highest water level ever reached at Millstone that anybody remembers was from Hurricane Gloria in 1985, and that was well below what the station prepares for, he said.
According to an NRC slide show, the NRC performed 8,258 hours of inspection on Millstone in 2010. The NRC has three full-time inspectors at the nuclear facility who inspect the site daily, and are allowed in any area of the plant.
The inspectors find approximately 15,000 concerns each year, for a variety of issues, Shaffer said. While that number sounds high, there are thousands of valves and hundreds of pumps at the site, he said.
The other major positive with Millstone was that it allowed workers to bring their concerns to their bosses. The NRC receives fewer complaints at Millstone than other stations because many of the concerns are solved in-house, which is good, Shaffer said.
Millstone officials were happy with the presentation.
“It is nice to hear the regulator pleased with what we do,” Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said. “Our number one priority has always been safety.”
What Went Wrong In Japan
The problems in Japan have not fully been discovered, because key information remains unverified, Jackson said.
But basically, what happened was an earthquake shut down the reactors. However, the tsunami that followed knocked out all electrical power to the station, so the fuel could not be cooled with water pumps, according to the NRC’s slide show.
Meanwhile, hydrogen built up in two units and exploded. That led to releases of radiation, although how much radiation has not been verified, Jackson said.
The major issue was that radiation could be blown by wind or poured into the water and spread, the slide show said. None of the radiation should affect the United States in any way, Jackson said.