Regulators Knew Of Seismic Risks To Nuclear Plants For Years - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Regulators Knew Of Seismic Risks To Nuclear Plants For Years

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM - Nearly six years before an earthquake ravaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, U.S. regulators came to a sobering realization: seismic risks to nuclear plants in the eastern two-thirds of the country were greater than had been suspected, and engineers might have to rethink reactor designs.

Thus began a little-noticed risk assessment process with far-reaching implications despite its innocuous-sounding name: Generic Issue 199. The process, which was supposed to have been finished nearly a year ago, is still under way. It is unclear when it will be completed.GI-199, as it is known, was triggered by new geophysical data and computer models showing that, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put it in an August 2010 summary document, "estimates of the potential for earthquake hazards for some nuclear power plants in the Central and Eastern United States may be larger than previous estimates."

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey and other sources suggest, for example, that "the rate of earthquake occurrence … is greater than previously recognized" in eastern Tennessee and areas including Charleston, S.C., and New Madrid, Mo., according to the NRC document. There are 11 reactors in Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri.

GI-199, a collaborative effort between the NRC and the nuclear industry, has taken on new urgency in light of the crisis in Japan. "Updated estimates of seismic hazard values at some of the sites could potentially exceed the design basis" for the plants, the NRC document says.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the exercise was never meant to provide "a definitive estimate of plant-specific seismic risk." Rather, he said, it was done to see if certain plants "warranted some sort of further scrutiny. It indicates which plants we may want to look at more carefully in terms of actual core damage risk."

The information collected under GI-199 has been shared with operators of all 104 reactors at 64 sites in the U.S., Hannah said, and NRC officials are in the process of determining whether any plants require retrofits to enhance safety. He added that the assessment indicated "no need for any immediate action. The currently operating plants are all safe from a seismic standpoint."

Nearly six years before an earthquake ravaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, U.S. regulators came to a sobering realization: seismic risks to nuclear plants in the eastern two-thirds of the country were greater than had been suspected, and engineers might have to rethink reactor designs.

Thus began a little-noticed risk assessment process with far-reaching implications despite its innocuous-sounding name: Generic Issue 199. The process, which was supposed to have been finished nearly a year ago, is still under way. It is unclear when it will be completed.GI-199, as it is known, was triggered by new geophysical data and computer models showing that, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put it in an August 2010 summary document, "estimates of the potential for earthquake hazards for some nuclear power plants in the Central and Eastern United States may be larger than previous estimates."

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey and other sources suggest, for example, that "the rate of earthquake occurrence … is greater than previously recognized" in eastern Tennessee and areas including Charleston, S.C., and New Madrid, Mo., according to the NRC document. There are 11 reactors in Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri.

GI-199, a collaborative effort between the NRC and the nuclear industry, has taken on new urgency in light of the crisis in Japan. "Updated estimates of seismic hazard values at some of the sites could potentially exceed the design basis" for the plants, the NRC document says.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the exercise was never meant to provide "a definitive estimate of plant-specific seismic risk." Rather, he said, it was done to see if certain plants "warranted some sort of further scrutiny. It indicates which plants we may want to look at more carefully in terms of actual core damage risk."

The information collected under GI-199 has been shared with operators of all 104 reactors at 64 sites in the U.S., Hannah said, and NRC officials are in the process of determining whether any plants require retrofits to enhance safety. He added that the assessment indicated "no need for any immediate action. The currently operating plants are all safe from a seismic standpoint."

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