Nuclear industry plans rescue wagon for disasters

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 9, 2012 at 11:43 am •  Published: December 9, 2012
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The FLEX program is supposed to help nuclear plants handle the biggest disasters. The equipment is meant to assist in the most critical tasks during a crisis: keeping nuclear fuel cool, keeping radioactive barriers intact and making sure old stores of used nuclear fuel don't overheat. If a cooling system fails and nuclear fuel gets too hot, the heat and pressure can rupture a reactor or even cause explosions that send radiation into the environment.

Utility companies must tell federal regulators early next year what equipment they are buying as part of the effort. Those supplies could include portable pumps, generators, batteries and chargers, compressors, hoses, tools and temporary flood barriers, according to industry plans filed with the NRC. Plant operators started buying some of this supplemental equipment to comply with disaster rules stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The cost for individual plants is not yet clear.

Under the plan, plant operators can summon help from the regional centers in Memphis and Phoenix. Both centers are near transportation hubs and spread out so a single disaster would be unlikely to cripple them both. In addition to having several duplicate sets of plant emergency gear, industry officials say the centers will likely have heavier equipment. That could include an emergency generator large enough to power a plant's emergency cooling systems, equipment to treat cooling water and extra radiation protection gear for workers.

Federal regulators must still decide whether to approve the plans submitted by individual plants. The NRC wants to see enough planning to make sure equipment such as emergency pumps could be transported and effectively used.

"They need to show us not just that they have the pump, but that they've done all the appropriate designing and engineering so that they have a hookup for that pump," NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. "They're not going to be trying to figure out, 'Where are we going to plug this thing in?'"

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Follow Ray Henry at http://twitter.com/rhenryAP.