FEMA: Oyster Creek Successfully Passes Drill

Oct 04, 2017

The purpose of what could be the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station’s final major drill last week before permanently shutting down was to demonstrate the ability to protect against a radiological release. It passed, according to a public review of the drill by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“It was successful,” said Susan O’Neil of the FEMA Regional Assistance Committee.

The drill, which occurred over a three-day period from Sept. 25 to Sept. 27, focused on a scenario that included the 50-mile emergency zone surrounding the Lacey Township-based plant. Locally, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom, Surf City, Harvey Cedars and Barnegat Light as well as Stafford Township and Barnegat Township were all included.

While the plant tests its emergency planning skills regularly, this more comprehensive drill comes less than two months after Exelon Corp., the Illinois-based utility company that owns and operates the plant, petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to alter its emergency plan after the final shutdown in December 2019.

Neil Sheehan, NRC Region 1 public information officer, said the federal agency has reviewed similar requests for other permanently shut-down nuclear plants. Once a plant isn’t running and all of the remaining fuel in the reactor has been moved to the spent fuel pool, the biggest remaining on-site risk is in the pool, he said.

Sheehan said the risk stems from the possibility of a draining of water in the fuel pool, and with the loss of coolant, fuel heating up to the point that there could be a failure of the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods, a fire and release of radioactivity into the environment. Exelon’s analysis concludes that 12 months after Oyster Creek shuts down for the last time, there would be 10 hours before the fuel would reach this point, he said. The company also claims there would be ample warning and time for operators to take steps to replenish the water in the pool. Portable pumps and fire hoses could potentially help offset an event, Sheehan said.

“We will need to thoroughly review the analysis and determine if the company’s assessment of the risks is accurate,” he said, noting that each nuclear plant has a different lifespan, providing distinctive quantities of fuel in the pool. Citing Vermont Yankee, Sheehan said that plant performed an analysis that showed the risk of a post-shutdown fire in the pool to diminish to a sufficiently safe level to allow significant emergency plan changes 15.4 months after the reactor ceased operations.

As for the latest drill, Josephine Ambrosini, emergency preparedness inspector for the NRC, said if plant personnel failed to meet the basic compliance of this drill, there would be bigger issues, such as an immediate shutdown.

“That’s not the case,” she said, noting that plant staff went above and beyond the scope of the exercise.

Gina G. Scala




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