Nuclear Industry Weighs $1 Billion Emergency-Response Plan

The U.S. nuclear-power industry is considering a $1 billion plan that would create regional centers to store equipment for delivery to reactors within 24 hours of an emergency.

The centers would be stocked with portable pumps and generators, radiation-monitoring equipment, anti-contamination clothing, spare batteries and flashlights, Adrian Heymer, director of strategic programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, said today in an interview. The plan, which may also store equipment and station personnel at power plants, might cost the industry an average of $8 million to $10 million for each of the 104 commercial U.S. reactors over the next 10 years, Heymer said.

The U.S. nuclear industry is developing plans as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prepares to release on July 19 a review of reactor safety after Japan’s March disaster. A 9-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami knocked out back-up power, triggered explosions and led to radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, about 135 miles (217 kilometers) north of Tokyo, in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Regional centers, on-site equipment and a “pre-arranged response plan” to deploy manufacturers and engineers quickly would provide support for reactors “should we have such an event here in the U.S. or even overseas,” Heymer said.

“Those are some of the things that we’re looking at that we are probably going to put in place” in an emergency exercise, he said.

Industry Task Force

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Nuclear Energy Institute are part of a task force formed in June to consider safety measures at U.S. nuclear plants after the Japan disaster. The regional centers are one option being considered, Heymer said.

“I think there would be a number of areas in the country where the companies would share” regional centers, he said. Exelon Corp. of Chicago, owner of the largest number of U.S. reactors, may choose to share a facility with Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio, or other power companies with reactors in the Midwest, Heymer said.

‘Bad Press’

The industry is “just responding to a lot of recent bad press,” Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, said in an interview.

Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has faulted U.S. oversight of reactor safety. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, have called on the NRC to examine nuclear power plants located in areas of seismic activity. In June, rising waters of the Missouri River in Nebraska threatened to breach flood walls protecting two nuclear plants.

The industry plan is a “good initiative, we just have to be sure that it’s well-executed,” Slocum said. Any emergency-response plan will need to be accompanied by drills to prepare workers who are the first to respond, according to Slocum.

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