Nebraska Public Power District is in “good position” to comply with safety changes announced by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week in response to the incident at Japan’s Dai-ichi nuclear plant, according to utility spokesman Mark Becker.
The orders, the first issued by the NRC since the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Japanese nuclear plant, mandate implementation of high-priority recommendations from a task force studying that incident and aim to further protect safety equipment installed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The commission has taken a significant step forward on our post-Fukushima efforts,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko stated in a press release. “ ... Of course, there’s still a great deal of work ahead of us.”
Orders affecting the nation’s 65 commercial nuclear plants, including NPPD’s Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, require better protection of the safety equipment, ensuring it can handle damage to multiple reactors at the same time, and installation of enhanced equipment to monitor water levels in spent fuel pools.
A third order, applying only to plants with specific boiling-water reactors, such as Cooper, involves upgrading or installing new venting systems that prevent or reduce core damage during nuclear accidents.
According to Becker, some of these modifications, such as improving the ventilation system and relocating some equipment, have already been undertaken at Cooper.
“We don’t think this is going to be a massive project,” he said. “I think we’re well on our way in some of these areas.”
Cooper Nuclear Station has also been equipped with two additional backup generators to run the plant if there is a loss of power.
Becker said the utility hasn’t determined costs for any further upgrades that may be required under the orders, which give plants until the end of 2016 to become compliant.
The nuclear industry has said it may spend as much as $100 million to buy and install portable emergency equipment, including pumps and generators, at power plants in the wake of Fukushima.
Companies that operate the nation's commercial nuclear plants already have acquired or ordered more than 300 pieces of major equipment to supplement existing safety equipment, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group.
The NRC task force also recommended a series of changes designed to increase protection at the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S.
These include re-assessing plants’ earthquake and flooding risks and ability to cope with incidents they were not initially designed to handle, such as prolonged power blackouts or damage to multiple reactors at the same time. Both scenarios occurred during the Japan crisis, which sent three of the plant’s reactors into meltdown in the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
At Cooper Nuclear Station, Becker said some of this analysis began immediately after the Fukushima incident and during the Missouri River flooding last summer.
While Cooper operated safely throughout the flooding — sitting higher than Omaha Public Power District’s Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, which was reached by the overflowing river during a planned refueling outage — Becker said NPPD practices procedures to prepare for “worst-possible” scenarios such as an upriver dam failure, million-year flood, earthquakes or tornadoes.
“We followed those to a T,” Becker said. “We were never at a point where we were going to have to shut down the plant, but we could have in a second, if necessary.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.