Fukushima's Lessons Guide Safety Upgrades at Oyster Creek
Forked River nuclear plant installed new equipment, reassessed emergency procedures and more since the disaster occurred in Japan on March 11, 2011
One year after the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima, Exelon Nuclear has performed extensive reviews of equipment, structures and procedures at Oyster Creek Generating Station.
“Integrating lessons and continuous improvement is a cornerstone of our operations at Oyster Creek,” said Oyster Creek Site Vice President Michael J. Massaro. “Along with the rest of the world, we watched and waited as events unfolded last March. And then, as nuclear professionals, we used the information and experiences coming from Japan to assure that our nuclear facility remained at the pinnacle of safety.”
Since the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, which occurred on March 11, 2011, Oyster Creek has purchased additional backup emergency equipment, updated emergency procedures and made additions to emergency training, a news release from Exelon Nuclear said.
“Since last March, we have taken the learnings from Fukushima, critically assessed our operations and taken immediate actions,” said Mike Pacilio, president and chief nuclear officer of Exelon Nuclear.
The news release stated that the primary lesson learned from Fukushima was to “expect the unexpected, and prepare for the unimaginable.
“We have additional safety measures planned for Exelon and the entire U.S. nuclear industry in the months ahead with additional guidance being issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We take pride in always being a learning organization dedicated to the safety of our facilities.”
The company has added seven mobile, high-volume diesel-driven pumps to its facilities, including Oyster Creek, among thousands of other equipment purchases, upgrades and validations, the release said.
At the Forked River-based nuclear plant, 5,000 worker hours were invested in completing Fukushima response activities; 105 procedures were created, revised or verified; 350 pieces of portable and installed equipment were reviewed; and 42 flood barriers and seals were verified as functional.
Oyster Creek is capable of withstanding the most severe floods for its area, the release said. The company is currently in the process of re-evaluating base assumptions about maximum historical flooding.
The site also was inspected and validated for seismic supports and restraints for thousands of pieces of equipment and pipes.
Oyster Creek, along with Exelon’s nine other facilities, has committed to purchasing additional safety equipment including emergency and portable equipment such as diesel driven pumps, electric generators, hoses, fittings and communications gear by March 31.
Currently Oyster Creek is protected from flooding by watertight doors, elevation of equipment above flood levels and flood barriers, the release said. The plant can automatically shut down and keep the fuel cooled without electricity from the grid using four layers of backup power generators.
Concrete walls up to 5-feet thick protect the reactor and other critical equipment. The plant also undergoes frequent emergency training and exercises involving government emergency response agencies.
“Oyster Creek’s emergency operating procedures are constantly tested, challenged, and simulated to ensure that they will work properly when needed,” the release said. “Such drills are overseen by the NRC with NRC inspectors stationed at all U.S. nuclear facilities on a full–time basis.”
Exelon Nuclear is not only verifying the safety of its plants one year after the incident in Japan but just days after an anti-nuclear peace walk began from Oyster Creek Generating Station to Vermont Yankee.
The walk was meant to call attention to the implications of the Fukushima accident for nuclear power safety in the U.S. Today, the demonstrators are making their way from West Long Branch to Perth Amboy.
“All of these things Oyster Creek is mentioning is like putting a band-aid on a 3-inch gash,” said Edith Gbur, a member of Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch, one of the groups involved in the peace walk. “It does not take care of the basic problem.”
The Atomic Agency Commission in Japan blames the accident on the design of the plant, she said. Oyster Creek has the same design as Fukushima with a GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor.
The plant continues to store its fuel pool above ground, the drywall liner is corroded, there are tritium leaks and radioactive emissions, she said.
“They try to give us happy messages about how they’re trying to protect the residents but they conceal the fact that they cannot do anything about these problems,” Gbur said.
In the case of an earthquake or tsunami, “there’s nothing you can do,” she said. “You can’t protect against Mother Nature.”
“The lessons learned from Fukushima is that we haven’t learned anything,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club said. Tittel was one of the speakers at the peace walk’s first public discussion on Friday, March 2.
“One of the problems we face is that we plan for what happened in the past and not what’s going to happen,” he said. “Every major accident there has been was unforeseen.”
A natural disaster can hit the Jersey Shore, Tittel said.
“It may not be a Fukushima, but it would be an Oyster Creek,” he said. “Just like we saw as news headlines Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima we do not want to see on the front page of the news, Oyster Creek.”
The changes Oyster Creek has made since Fukushima will help, Tittel said. But the nuclear plant is plagued by problems.
“There are problems they haven’t figured out yet,” he said. “Until you have a better place to store spent fuel and until you rebuild that plant, there’s always a chance for an accident with an aging plant.”
“Lessons of the Fukushima disaster is that old, obsolete nuclear power plants like Oyster Creek should be closed,” Tittel said. “They are not worth the risk to the environment or the public health and safety.”
To read more about what the plant has learned and done since Fukushima, see the attached fact sheet.