US nuclear industry spends billions on post-Fukushima upgrades

Washington (Platts)--31 Jul 2014 457 pm EDT/2057 GMT

The US nuclear power industry has so far spent about $3 billion taking actions and making plant modifications to address lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima I accident in Japan, a utility official told the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission during a briefing Thursday.

NRC ordered US nuclear power plant operators in March 2012, almost exactly a year after the accident, to comply with new requirements designed to strengthen their ability to keep reactors and spent fuel cooled during severe external events, such as the earthquake and tsunami that hit the station in Japan.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the US nuclear industry, developed a plan, dubbed FLEX and eventually endorsed by NRC, which would use portable equipment deployed around the plants and in regional centers, to help respond to such an emergency and meet the new requirements. Most nuclear industry actions to comply with those orders must be completed by the end of 2016.

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Pete Sena, president and chief nuclear officer of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, told the commission during the briefing Thursday that since the March 2011 accident, in which three of six reactors at Fukushima suffered fuel damage and released radioactivity, FENOC has spent about $125 million to increase the safety margin of the four nuclear power reactors it operates.

If those figures are an accurate average cost for all 100 operating nuclear power reactors in the US, the industry has spent around $3 billion or more on post-Fukushima safety upgrades, Sena said.

Jim Scarola, executive director at NEI and co-chair of the industry's Fukushima response steering committee, said during the briefing that the industry "does not look at this task as finished. It is a continuous improvement."

Sena did not object to the costs as too great. However, each new safety activity "is in competition with other safety activities. There is only so much time in the day to do such work. If something comes onto the table, something [else] comes off the table," Sena said.

Both NRC and nuclear industry reviews concluded after the Fukushima I accident that US power reactors were safe to operate but various improvements can and should be made.

--Steven Dolley,
--Edited by Caitlin Laird,

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