Tag Archives: Nuclear Safety

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Nuclear Energy: Weathering the Storm

With people more dependent on the grid than ever before, grid reliance is essential to ensuring that people have access to basic services such as police, fire and clean water. Our dependency on the internet and our mobile devices further adds a level of criticality to having a reliable grid. A reliable grid is made up of two components, the infrastructure that makes up the grid and the energy source that powers it. Both of which can be put to the test when severe weather hits. As was witnessed again this year, when South Florida was a dealt a blow by Irma, nuclear served as a reliable source of energy.

“There was literally not a single pole, wire or piece of equipment that did not feel the wind or the rain of Irma so for us it was unprecedented,” said Peter Robbins, generations communications manager, Florida Power & Light. Four million customers lost power following Irma.

 

Meanwhile, Florida’s two nuclear power plants withstood the fury of the storm. Turkey Point and St. Lucie nuclear power plants which serve approximately 1.5 million customers are designed to withstand the natural force of such extreme events like hurricanes. Florida’s nuclear plants sit approximately 20 feet above sea level and are constructed to withstand the force of severe flooding and storm surges. Backup safety systems are also in place to ensure site safety.

“Nuclear reactors are specifically designed and constructed to deal with severe weather and extreme natural events including hurricanes and earthquakes. Our plant in Homestead took a direct hit from Andrew (in 1992) and the nuclear components were not damaged. Turkey Point was ready to come back online but the electrical grid was destroyed-there was no -where to send the electricity.”

Findings backed up by a report released by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, almost a year after Hurricane Andrew which stated that, “There was no damage to the safety related systems except for minor water intrusion and some damage to insulation and paint, and there was no radioactive release to the environment.  The units remained in a stable condition and functioned as designed.”

While hurricane preparations and drills take place long before the seasons starts, a week and a half before Irma made landfall, further measures were taken. One of the units was shut down at Turkey Point, in anticipation of hurricane force winds, prior to Irma’s track shifting westward. Following Irma, a full inspection was done at both facilities. The plants, once again proved their resiliency to extreme events. A post-storm inspection revealed only salt buildup on the non-nuclear side of St. Lucie.

“There are a lot of inspections that need to take place to make sure that things held up during the storm. We double and triple check everything and work with emergency management officials,” according to Robbins.

Widespread damage and the amount of debris has posed a huge challenge for power grid restoration crews. In the case of Irma, the storm brought down the equivalent of 2 years of yard waste in one day in some locations.

“It has been more than a decade since our last major hurricane and vegetation builds up. A hurricane will take down weak branches and weak trees and we saw a tremendous amount of vegetation damage during the storm. It takes one tree to crash into a set of power lines to knock out power to a neighborhood or section of a city,” stated Robbins.

Even with all this damage, Florida Power & Light, with the assistance of 20,000 workers from across the United States and Canada, were able to restore power to 2 million people within 24 hours following Irma.

“We have a heartfelt thank you to all the folks who came here from out of state to help us restore power,” stressed Robbins.

Late summer a torrent of hurricanes battering coastlines from the island of Barbuda through the Carolinas in the United States. Harvey, Irma and Maria made headlines for their intensity and catastrophic damage. For the first time in centuries, the island of Barbuda was completely vacated after Irma moved through and damaged or destroyed 95% of the island’s buildings. As the monster storm moved over Florida, Irma brought widespread destruction, making landfall as a Category 4 storm, the second strongest on the Saffir Simpson scale.

These recent storms have highlighted the need for reliable energy, generation and grid infrastructure. While the ocean waters are calm for now, if atmospheric conditions are just right more storms could find their way swirling across the Atlantic. Once again, people will need reliable and resilient infrastructure-from energy generation and distribution to homes. Once again, the reliability and safety of nuclear power generating stations can be counted on.

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Being Prepared for the Unexpected: The Nuclear Industry is Disaster Ready

In 2011, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded opened-up the sea floor and sent a wall of water rushing along the Japanese coast knocking out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Images of the devastation made international headlines and raised concern over the safety and preparedness of nuclear power plants in the event of a disaster.

Recently, the government of Ontario announced that it is updating the province’s nuclear response plan. It will have a very solid and impressive basis on which to build.

Although the risk of a tsunami-induced accident at Canada’s nuclear power sites is close to non-existent, being prepared for the unexpected has been at the core of the nuclear industry’s commitment to safety. In fact, within a year of the Fukushima accident, Canada’s nuclear operators took additional steps, including a full-scale emergency exercise that was hosted by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) at its Darlington operations. The exercise brought together emergency responders from all levels of government and OPG, to test accident readiness.

Safety is a crucial pillar of success, and that is why the industry continues to add new measures to existing emergency response plans. As one example, OPG installed flood barriers to protect low-lying equipment in the event of a severe weather disaster. During the Fukushima event, an explosion took place because of a buildup of hydrogen. So OPG installed passive autocatalytic recombiners to limit the risk of a buildup of hydrogen should a leak ever occur.

Bruce Power, Ontario’s other nuclear generator, has built upon its safety foundation post-Fukushima, making additional investments in a suite of back-up generators and fire trucks. A new Emergency Management Centre, equipped with its own back-up power supply was also set up, and last October Bruce Power hosted 500 people from over two dozen agencies to take part in a week-long emergency preparedness drill called Exercise Huron Resolve.

This week-long exercise involved various industry partners and government including The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, The Ontario Provincial Police, The Ministry of Labour’s Radiation Protection Services and OFMEM’s Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, which is based in Toronto.

Outside of Ontario, in New Brunswick, the Point Lepreau nuclear plant recently conducted  two large-scale emergency response exercises. A two-day simulation, in 2015, was conducted in partnership between NB Power and New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization and this past May the company teamed up with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to run through security emergency response exercises.

It is important to point out that, prior to Fukushima, nuclear emergency response plans were already in place. In fact, the nuclear industry’s commitment to emergency planning has been in place since the operation of nuclear power plants began, over fifty years ago. Since that time, operators have continued to build upon best practices.

While the geography of Canada makes it highly unlikely that an earthquake and ensuing tsunami, like the one that swallowed the Japanese coast, could ever occur here, we know that we must invest and demonstrate our commitment to planning and preparing for the unexpected. Our people are our number one asset, living and working in the communities they serve. Keeping our communities safe isn’t just part of our job it’s part of our community responsibility. One that we take pride in.

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Safety Versus Security: How the Nuclear Industry Balances Both

Nuclear safety and nuclear security are often paired together. Indeed, they almost seem synonymous. On the CNA website, “Safety & Security” is a single section. And in some ways, it makes perfect sense.

safety-firstNuclear safety and security have in common the aim of protecting people, property, and the environment. Safety and security measures have to be designed and implemented in an integrated manner to ensure synergy, and also in such a way that security measures do not compromise safety, and safety measures do not compromise security. However, there are some important differences that, at times, pit one against the other.

Safety is enhanced through transparency. Greater openness and awareness of procedures, measures and facilities designed to strengthen safety serve to reinforce public confidence in the industry and increase the public’s understanding and acceptance of nuclear technology..

Security, conversely, relies on confidentiality in order to be effective. The best security measures are the ones that limit access to sensitive facilities, procedures and sources so as to reduce possible interference or attack by criminal or terrorist entities. In short, security is dependent on the extent to which information is kept from wider exposure.

Though discussions typically group these two terms together, the reality is that there is a constant balance that must be struck between the openness of safety and the assurance of security. Some measures must remain confidential and protected in order to be effective in enhancing nuclear security. Yet, certain details must nevertheless be communicated so as to provide public assurance.

Each part of the industry has a different balance to strike between safety and security. It depends on the range of threats, risks and potential impacts of the nuclear technology in question. There is also the recognition that transgressions can occur internally, as well as externally.

Thankfully, the industry never rests on its laurels and is continuously working on finding new and better ways ensure safety AND strengthen overall security.

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New Fault Detection Technology to Improve Power Plant Safety

Fault DetectionResearchers at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, Ontario, have been working with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Bruce Power to develop innovative solutions for nuclear power plant safety.

The process is called Fault Semantic Network. Dr. Hossam A. Gabbar, who is a professor with UOIT’s Faculty of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science (cross-appointed to the university’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science), says the process will allow nuclear plant operators to truly understand potential fault possibilities and how best  to prevent them.

Dr. Gabbar and students have been developing computer models that use real-time utility data and simulate problems, or “faults,” at nuclear power plants.

This model-based approach can be implemented in parallel with a real plant. It is expected to enhance system performance by improving plant safety.

“This will enable operators like OPG and Bruce Power to actually model the fault and model the problems in critical equipment and identify what are the protection barriers or layers and what is the probability of different faults,” Dr. Gabbar said.

“It will allow operators to have a better understanding of actual fault propagation scenarios and will link these fault scenarios into safety protection layers to overcome any fault propagation scenario.”

Dr. Gabbar and his students have done a number of case studies that simulate things such as steam generation faults and steam pressure faults.

Canada’s nuclear power operations have a proven track record of being among the safest in the world. They are highly monitored, stringently regulated and continuously improved through the daily efforts of qualified professionals who are committed to ensuring public safety.

In keeping with the industry’s philosophy of continuous improvement, new methods and enhancements to existing methods are being developed in the areas of systems analysis, accident causation, human factors, error reduction and measurement of safety performance.

Using Fault Semantic Network (FSN) for troubleshooting faults in CANDU reactors will only build on the current knowledge and improve safety in the future.

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Uranium Mining Safety

Uranium Mining Safety Infographic - English

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When We All Have a Say, Who Flies the Plane?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

You find your seat, stuff your bag in the overhead, sit down, and put your lap-belt on.

Sixteen inches from your face, the video lights up.

Welcome aboard our flight today. I’m the Chairman of this airline’s board of directors, and I’d like to ask for three minutes of your help.

Our customers are the heart of what we do.

Our Board is trying to decide how far that can go. With this in mind, we’ve drafted some possible new guidance for our great airline. We want to hear from you, our customers – the reason we fly.

Please touch the screen to express your support for each of the following measures on a scale of 1 to 4 (where 4 expresses greatest support).

  1. Customers were under-represented in past decisions around fuel mix, engine technology, flying altitude, and emergency procedures. We propose to consult you regularly from now on. Based on passenger consultations, the airline CEO will make sure customer concerns are addressed.  

[Your fellow passengers tap their screens in response. You hesitate and look around. You see your seat-mate touch 4.]

  1. Criteria for making weather-related flight cancellations should reflect customer needs. The airline CEO will lead a consultation process to review these criteria. The decision criteria in poor weather may be relaxed if customers believe they were needlessly inconvenienced by past cancellations.

[Your seat-mate touches 3.]

  1. The airline CEO will transition our company to full “flight deck transparency.” Conversations within the flight deck, and between aircraft and ground, will be available for you to monitor on Channel 3 of our audio system.

[Your seat-mate hesitates, then touches 2.]

  1. In the next level of “flight deck transparency,” passengers will be able to submit real-time comments on those flight deck conversations. Comments will be moderated by the flight director and read to the pilot.

[Your seat-mate starts looking around the cabin. Others are doing the same. An audible murmur starts.]

  1. In the next level of “flight deck transparency,” warning signals and alarms from our avionic systems would be broadcast on the cabin speakers. We plan for passengers to be able to record their level of concern online at fifteen-second intervals. At each interval the pilot would hear a reading of the current average concern level. When multiple alarms are sounding, this reading frequency to the pilot would be shortened to five-second intervals.

The murmur of worry gets louder; hands move away from screens.

Absurd? Not entirely.

Sure, nearly all of us probably want to let the pilots fly the planes – and not distract them with our “concern level.” Whether it’s because we trust their professional qualifications, or we trust those who regulate them, or just because we aren’t sure we know better than they do, we let them do their jobs.

What about the “pilots” of the other critical systems in our modern world – those who plan and maintain city drinking water supplies, for example? Or the public health officers who manage disease outbreaks? Or fire marshals who regulate our office and apartment buildings to reduce fire risks? Do we let them do their jobs? In these cases, mostly the answer is yes, particularly as long as their record of protecting us is good.

Look further and the situation gets muddier. In CNA’s mid-2014 poll, nearly one in four respondents did NOT agree that the government agencies that regulate Canadian nuclear power plants are taking the issue of safety “seriously.” Attend public regulatory hearings and you’ll hear the same message in even less polite terms from those citizens who turn out to state their views. Canadians say they trust the corporations running the plants just as much as they trust the independent public regulators, if not more so. And trust in the public regulators seems to be trending downward.

Regulate Canadian power plants graph

It’s not just nuclear. A similar trend seems to affect a wide range of industry regulatory activities: from health product approvals to food inspection to environmental assessments to electricity generation. Canadians appear less and less willing to trust the people and processes inside regulatory bodies. The result is that more and more, public regulatory decisions get fought out in sidewalk protests, social media, TV news, legislatures, or election campaigns.

This is surprising when you consider that over the past 250 years, the rise of our professional standards of practice, product codes, and independent regulatory agencies have advanced ordinary people’s health and safety by orders of magnitude. (See “How can Nuclear Power be Safe?”)

By the evidence, this is one of the great successes of western society, owed to quiet technocrats who stayed out of politics and applied objective scientific and economic measures to find the public good.

Yet we now seem willing to discard it in favor of political processes where the winners are more likely to be the loudest screamers, the best-resourced lobbyists, or the richest property owners. In re-politicizing regulated industries, we don’t necessarily democratize decisions; rather, we may empower the noisy few. And much clear, demonstrable progress toward better decision-making may simply get undone.

It’s a big issue. It threatens to be a big step backward. And it’s something we should be talking more about. Pilots aren’t perfect; they’re human. So are their managers, and their CEOs, and their Boards, and their regulators. Oversight is always needed. But are we going to let them do their jobs, or not?