On Sunday, March 22, the Post-Gazette reported FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (“FENOC”) is continuing to implement modifications to the Beaver Valley Power Station. The modifications resulted from additional regulations promulgated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) in response to the 2011 nuclear event in Fukushima. This blog outlines the regulations that have specifically stemmed from the Fukushima event.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred off of the coast of Japan in close proximity to eleven nuclear reactors at four different sites. Fukushima Dai-ichi lost power from the grid for approximately 40 minutes, and in the interim, the site was hit by a 45-foot tsunami. The tsunami caused damages to the generators as well as back-up systems. Eventually four of the six reactors at Fukushima lost all power. Systems for three of the six reactors failed, overheating occurred, and the cores were somewhat melted. As a result, high pressure formed that caused the release of radioactive gas and hydrogen. The hydrogen exploded, causing additional release of radioactive material.
Almost precisely a year after the event, the NRC revealed measures in response to Fukushima.
Regulations Stemming from Fukushima
In March 2012, the NRC outlined nine—Tier 1— areas of concern, three of which ordered licensees of U.S. nuclear plants to comply with by 2016: (1) mitigation strategies; (2) containment venting systems; and (3) spent fuel pool instrumentation. Other Tier 1 items—involving a request for information from the licensees without ordering immediate action—include seismic reevaluations, flooding hazard reevaluations, seismic and flooding walk downs, and emergency preparedness. The NRC also revealed Tier 2 and Tier 3 measures which are less pressing to complete.
The modifications being made at Beaver Valley are primarily aimed at handling and responding to disaster. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article explains, the Fukushima disaster taught the nuclear industry that plants may experience unprecedented natural disasters, and a Japanese investigation discovered the Fukushima disaster was a result of “man-made” deficiencies. As a result, the NRC orders aim at preparing the nuclear plants to be able to respond to any disaster regardless of what caused it. The majority of the modifications being made at FENOC’s Beaver Valley Plants fall under the mitigation strategies and spent fuel pool instrumentation. The Fukushima reactors are boiling water reactors; whereas, the Beaver Valley reactors are pressurized water reactors. The containment venting system order does not require any modifications at Beaver Valley because the order applies only to boiling water reactors.
Economic Impact on Utilities
The safety measures previously discussed are predictably going to come at a significant cost to the nuclear industry. As of July 2014, the nuclear industry had spent approximately $3 billion dollars in response to the Fukushima disaster. Pete Sena, president and chief nuclear officer of FENOC, expressed FENOC had spent $125 million on modifications to its four nuclear reactors between March 2011 and July 2014. Extrapolating that cost per reactor across the all of the nuclear reactors in the United States, the cost to the nuclear industry was anticipated to be in the realm of $3 billion. However, more recently the Nuclear Energy Institute has estimated the cost to the industry would be closer to $4 billion.
While coming at a cost to the nuclear industry, substantial safety improvements will be implemented by 2016 in response to the Fukushima disaster.
Daniel Moore, At Beaver Valley, Upgrades are Underway in Response to Fukushima Disaster, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 22, 2015, available at http://powersource.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies-powersource/2015/03/22/At-FirstEnergy-s-Beaver-Valley-plant-upgrades-are-underway-in-response-to-the-Fukushima-disaster/stories/201503110002.
Japan Lessons Learned, NRC.gov http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/ops-experience/japan-dashboard.html (last visited Mar. 25, 2015).
US Nuclear Industry Spends Billions on Post-Fukushima Upgrades, Platts.com, http://www.platts.com/latest-news/electric-power/washington/us-nuclear-industry-spends-billions-on-post-fukushima-21004195 (last visited Mar. 25, 2015)