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Seismic Reassessment of U.S Nuclear Reactors Hits Nerves

Report detaiing Nucler Regulatory Commission's order attracts rage of comments

2 min read
Seismic Reassessment of U.S Nuclear Reactors Hits Nerves

A story in today's Wall Street Journal by the paper's ace energy reporter Rebecca Smith describes an order just issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requiring operators of all 96 reactors located in the eastern United States to reevaluate them in terms of revised earthquake risk estimates. Given added urgency by the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima, where reactors were found to have been not designed for an earthquake of the severity that hit them, the NRC is telling owners of nuclear power plants that they must review them in light of a new seismic risk model jointly developed by the NRC, the Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

The process of developing that model preceded Fukushima, a point Smith neglects to make. But the model's damage risk estimates are often significantly higher than those considered authoritative when existing nuclear power plants were designed and built. The model suggests, for example, that the worst earthquake expected in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a 10,000 year period might be twice as damaging to structures as previously expected. (The Sequoyah plant, pictured above, is located 18 miles north of Chattanooga.)

The NRC is giving plant operators four years to complete the reassessments and report back. Predictably, critics of the industry complain that this is much too long, and that the commission already has the information it needs to order changes right now. Industry analysts observe that the process itself will be costly and that it could lead to very costly required upgrades, so costly that some plants might be closed rather than improved.

What is perhaps most notable about Smith's report is the very lively reaction it has elicited. In a half day it has inspired 75 comments and counting, many of them quite extensive. Writers range from those saying no nuclear plant should ever have been built in the first place to those saying the revised seismic assessments are just a big fuss about nothing. In between you'll find some substantial observations of interest.


Post modified on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 1 pm EST in reaction to feedback from the Nuclear Energy Institute, which has not complained about the propriety or costliness of the NRC seismic review.


The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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