Nuclear industry plans rescue wagon for disasters
ATLANTA — If disaster strikes a nuclear power plant in the United States, the utility industry wants the ability to fly in heavy-duty equipment that could avert a meltdown.
That capability is part of a larger industry plan being developed to meet new rules that emerged since a 2011 tsunami struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan, flooding its emergency equipment and causing nuclear meltdowns that sent radiation leaking into the environment. The tsunami exceeded the worst-case scenario the plant was designed to withstand, and it showed how an extreme, widespread disaster can complicate emergency plans.
The effort, called FLEX, is the nuclear industry's method for meeting new Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules that will force 65 plants in America to get extra emergency equipment on site and store it protectively. As a backup, the industry is developing regional hubs in Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix that could truck or even fly in more equipment to stricken reactors. Industry leaders say the effort will add another layer of defense in case a Fukushima-style disaster destroys a nuclear plant's multiple backup systems.
“It became very clear in Japan that utilities became quickly overwhelmed,” said Joe Pollock, vice president for nuclear operations at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group that is spearheading the effort.
Nuclear industry watchdogs are concerned that by moving first, the utility industry is attempting to head-off more costly and far-reaching requirements that might otherwise be set by the NRC, which oversees commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. Plants started buying the equipment before NRC regulators approved the concept. Industry officials say they are not certain yet how the equipment would be moved in a crisis.
“That presented essentially facts-on-the-ground for the NRC and essentially gave the industry the upper hand in how this is going to play out,” said Edwin Lyman, the senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who criticized FLEX as a “window-dressing exercise.”
U.S. nuclear plants already have backup safety systems and are supposed to withstand the worst possible disasters in their regions, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. But planners can be wrong.
The Japanese utility TEPCO dismissed scientific evidence and geological history showing that the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was susceptible to being struck by a far bigger tsunami than it said was possible. Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna Power Station was struck by a 2011 tremor that caused peak ground movement at about twice the level for which the plant was designed. It did not suffer major damage and has resumed operations.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pot doctors in medical marijuana states push boundaries with marketing
- Prof proposes museum of corruption in New York capital
- Disability claim waits grow alongside swelling caseloads for judges
- Suspect in Colorado attack called loner who left few clues
- Federal $1.1 trillion spending bill loaded with policy deals
- AIDS activist finishes rowing across Atlantic
- Artists plan to rebuild Alaska art display damaged by tides
- Kids making oral history with StoryCorps holiday project
- Nuclear crossroad: California reactors face uncertain future
- Hawaii confronts dengue fever cases
- Ex-Benghazi panel staffer Podliska files suit against chairman Gowdy