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NRC schedules a Nov. 1 public hearing in Mineral to discuss inspections and restart of North Anna

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By Paula C. Squires

The U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff has scheduled a public meeting in Mineral on Nov. 1 to discuss its inspections of the North Anna nuclear power station and its assessment of the plant’s readiness to restart following an Aug. 23 earthquake.

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the NRC, said Monday that a restart of the station’s two nuclear reactors — which tripped offline and have been out of service since the 5.8 quake — appears to be “more near term than far term at this point.”

“We haven’t made a decision yet,” he said. “The next step will be the public meeting. From that point, we’re talking weeks instead of months.” 

In response to concerns about public convenience expressed during a daytime hearing earlier this month at the power station’s information center in Louisa County, the NRC is holding the Nov.1, meeting at 7 p.m. at the Louisa County Middle School Auditorium at 1009 Davis Highway in Mineral. The NRC’s presentation will provide an overview of restart requirements, the staff review process, an overview of technical areas associated with the safety review and an overall summary of what will happen going forward.

Members of the NRC inspection teams will attend as well as managers from the NRC Region II office in Atlanta and agency headquarters in Rockville, Md.  After the meeting, NRC staff will be available to answer questions from media representatives and members of the public. Prior to the restart review, an NRC augmented inspection team completed a separate follow-up inspection of the plant, in addition to one done by Dominion Virginia Power, the plant’s operator.

Since the earthquake, Richmond–based Dominion, parent company of Dominion Virginia Power, said it has spent about $21 million and 100,000 staff hours on an inspection, testing and analysis program, including repairs. The company provided the figure in a press release that followed last week’s appearance by David A. Heacock, Dominion’s chief nuclear officer, before the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville.

Heacock said the station and its two 980-megawatt reactors successfully withstood the earthquake without significant damage because its design included multiple safety margins.“We have gone over North Anna very systematically – every safety system, structure and component – and found no safety-related functional damage,” he said.
Heacock told the NRC that both North Anna units are ready to restart and resume safe operation once the agency completes its independent review and grants permission. At the NRC’s request, the company has agreed to perform additional seismic analysis on certain components after restart. “Dominion is fully prepared to undertake this additional analysis and incorporate it into the station’s licensing basis,” Heacock said.

Both units at North Anna shut down automatically and safely at 1:51 p.m. on Aug. 23 when the earthquake struck Central Virginia.  The epicenter was about 11 miles from the station and about 4 miles underground.  Both units were operating at full power when the event occurred.“While the quake lasted about 25 seconds, only 3.1 seconds of intense motion occurred. The station could have withstood significantly more,” Heacock told the NRC. While the station briefly experienced accelerations that exceeded seismic accelerations to which it was originally licensed, Heacock observed that multiple layers of strength and safety provided a safety margin that was not exceeded.

Before the units can resume operation, Dominion must demonstrate to the NRC that no “functional damage” occurred that would prevent the units from performing safely during normal and emergency operations. Ledford said the NRC’s role is safety. “We expect them to spend whatever they need to spend to make sure that the reactor is ready and can be run in a safe and secure way,” he said.




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