NRC says Prairie Island able to handle emergenciesMinnesota News
-- Prairie Island nuclear plant, alongside the United States' 103 other plants, is prepared to handle emergency situations, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
By: Danielle Nordine - Red Wing Republican-Eagle, Pierce County Herald
RED WING - Prairie Island nuclear plant, alongside the United States' 103 other plants, is prepared to handle emergency situations, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The NRC had minor suggestions, such as better emergency training for responders, but said the plant is on track.
The agency initiated inspections of U.S. nuclear power plants after a March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan badly damaged one of the country's nuclear plants.
Prairie Island's inspection affirmed what local Xcel Energy officials have said in the past - that the plant generally is well prepared for disasters such as floods, tornadoes and electricity blackouts.
Still, they said they will continue to make the plant safer.
"We're pleased that the NRC concluded we operate the Prairie Island plant safely, but we're never satisfied," said Mark Schimmel, site vice president.
He said the plant is considering additional backup power for some components. In the event of a power outage, the Prairie Island plant has diesel generators to supply power to safety-related equipment and battery backups to provide power to instruments and emergency lighting.
The NRC expressed some concerns with the plant's ability to respond to a station blackout. But Xcel officials have said the plant is able to safely shut down and keep fuel cooled using methods such as steam-driven turbines to supply water to the reactor.
The plant was designed to weather the most common disasters here - floods and tornadoes - and emergency procedures are in place, Xcel officials said.
And even though an earthquake in the area is unlikely, seismic activity is monitored around the plant and it is designed to endure minor quakes.
The inspections found some of the sump pumps and flooding detectors would not fare well in an earthquake, but they wouldn't be relied upon following flooding or earthquakes.
Plant officials also are evaluating the storage structures of some protective equipment to ensure it is protected.
"Inspectors drew our attention to some issues that we are addressing," Schimmel said.
Resident inspectors nationally evaluated all plants' ability to respond to major fires, floods, earthquakes, explosions, loss of electricity or a combination of these circumstances. Preparations for some of those disasters are not required under current requirements, but still the NRC determined plants were, in general, prepared for such events.
The NRC started releasing the inspection reports to the public Friday.
The results will be used not only to evaluate the industry's preparedness for emergencies, but also to determine if additional regulation is needed, NRC officials said.
Prairie Island nuclear plant has cleared another hurdle in its license renewal process.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final environmental impact statement Tuesday, stating there are no environmental factors that would prevent a license renewal for both units.
If approved, the renewal would allow the plant to operate for an additional 20 years. The current licenses expire in August of 2013 for Unit 1 and October of 2014 for Unit 2.
A separate safety evaluation for the renewal was completed in October 2009, and the NRC's decision on the licenses is expected to come soon.
Xcel Energy also plans to up the power on the plant's units and increase the number of nuclear waste storage casks on site.