NRC: Upgrade Reactor Vents

Thursday, March 21, 2013 @ 05:03 PM gHale


There will need to be improvements in the emergency vents at 31 American nuclear reactors that share design similarities with the Japanese reactors that melted down two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said this week.

In a 3 to 2 vote, the NRC did stop short of requiring filters to scrub out radioactive particles coming through those vents.

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The nuclear industry agreed to improvements recommended by the staff of the five-member commission after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, but had argued against requiring the filters, saying there were more effective ways to avoid releases of radioactive material. While the agency staff said there was not a cost benefit justification for the filters, but plants needed them because of uncertainties in estimating the risks.

The chairwoman of the commission, Allison M. Macfarlane, voted for the filters and said the main influence came from a visit to Fukushima, which “required travel through deserted villages, full of abandoned homes and business overgrown with weeds, and past fallow fields, and unused industrial buildings, roads and railroad tracks.”

Commissioner William D. Magwood IV, who voted with the majority, said if the agency imposed a blanket requirement for an improvement that could not be justified by risk analysis “the regulatory stability the NRC has developed over the decades would be lost.”

He said after Fukushima, researchers found the vents did not work and the operators did not have the authority to take action that might have reduced the effects of the accident.

“If operators were not to take appropriate action in the event of a severe accident, a loss of containment integrity is almost certain even if external scrubbers are present,” he wrote. That would render the filters irrelevant.



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