National Emergency Exercise Prepares Utilities and Other Responders for the Unlikely

March 28, 1979, was a day that forever changed the nuclear power industry – the day of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in Pennsylvania. A combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems and human performance errors led to the event.

Many detailed evaluations and scientific studies of this event have occurred, and have concluded the approximately 2 million people around the plant during the event received an average of about one millirem* of radiation from the event – basically, the equivalent of adding an order of french fries to a daily diet. What did result, however, were sweeping changes to further protect public health and safety, such as upgrades and strengthening of nuclear plant design and equipment requirements, improvements in operator training and enhancements to emergency preparedness (EP) requirements.

Fast forward to 2015, when Duke Energy and other partners will participate in a large, multiday, graded emergency preparedness exercise involving Duke Energy’s Robinson Nuclear Plant.

While all nuclear plants are required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to perform a graded emergency preparedness exercise every two years, what makes this exercise unique is its enormous scope. The drill scenario will simulate response to a radiological release that goes beyond the plant boundary – into areas up to 50 miles from the plant, which includes portions of North Carolina and South Carolina. Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and South Carolina state and county officials will participate in response to this simulated event.

The exercise will last five days, the first three occurring July 21 – 23, and dates in September that will simulate what continued response would be months after such a radiological release. On July 21 and 22, Robinson Nuclear Plant will simulate its response to highly unlikely plant conditions. In addition, off-site activities will include field monitoring teams dispatched to take hypothetical samples, emergency responders going to local emergency preparedness agencies and joint press conferences with county, state and federal officials.

There are many benefits for agencies participating in a national exercise. Participation in the exercise not only helps improve our processes and procedures; it is good for the nuclear industry and emergency planning partners to demonstrate collaboration in ensuring public protection.

Events like Fukushima have taught us that we can never be too prepared, and our preparation must be ongoing and collaborative.

*Millirem – the unit of measure for radiation dose (like yards and miles are units of measure for distance).

The Navy – A Valuable Tool for the Nuclear Industry

The United State Nuclear Navy program provides a valuable pipeline for talent to commercial nuclear operations across the country. A significant number of commercial nuclear workers begin their careers in the nuclear navy.

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, often referred to as the “father of nuclear energy,” is widely credited with beginning the nuclear program. Through his efforts the Navy launched its first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, in 1954. Since that time, the Navy has been a fertile proving ground for commercial nuclear operations.

There are several reasons why people with Nuclear Navy experience are appealing to commercial nuclear plants. Chief amongst those is the Navy’s stellar nuclear record that produces workers with high standards. According to Forbes, “The Nuclear Navy has logged over 5,400 reactor years of accident-free operations and travelled over 130 million miles on nuclear energy, enough to circle the earth 3,200 times.” The same article cites that no civilian or military member has ever received a radiological dose that exceeded the Federal radiation limits. This type of excellence is attractive to nuclear utilities  that understand the demands of working in an environment that requires safe, precise operation.

“One of the benefits of someone with a Nuclear Navy background is they know that there are high expectations when it comes to nuclear power. They understand that excellence is our standard,”  Henry Curry, a training manager at Duke Energy’s Robinson Nuclear said.

In addition, members onboard nuclear submarines and ships receive a well-rounded education in nuclear energy, they are adept problem solvers. Repairs or issues that crop up on nuclear vessels are often dealt with hundreds or thousands of miles from support, requiring a broad understanding of nuclear operation and maintenance.

“A Navy Nuke has been exposed to every facet of nuclear operation from plant operations, maintenance, and training. They come in having seen how the entire system works, albeit on a much smaller scale, which makes them excellent nuclear operators,” Curry said.

From a cultural standpoint,  their training allows former Navy members to assimilate easily into nuclear plant culture. The importance of following procedures, understanding command and control, and working in a highly precise field are commonplace for former sailors.

It is important to remember that given the unique nature of each nuclear operation, even former Nuclear Navy members have to undergo extensive training before they work at a commercial nuclear facility .

“They still have to complete a similar training program, but they come in with a tremendous training advantage from their previous training and a cultural advantage from their experience working around nuclear energy,” Curry said.

The experience these men and women gained protecting our country now helps them to power it.

Duke Energy Employees Win Top Nuclear Industry Awards

2015 TIP AwardsEvery year, the nuclear industry recognizes top industry performance through the Top Industry Practice (TIP) awards. These awards are presented annually at the Nuclear Energy Assembly and recognize innovative achievements in the nuclear industry.

This year, Duke Energy teams won the Operate Plant Award and the TIP Vision, Leadership and Ingenuity Award.

Operate Plant Award

Duke Energy NeverWet® team representative accepting the Operate Plant Award (Photo credit: NEI)

Duke Energy NeverWet® team representative accepting the Operate Plant Award                   (Photo credit: NEI)

A team of Duke Energy employees from the Robinson Nuclear Plant in South Carolina were awarded the Operate Plant Award for the industry’s first large-scale application of a product called NeverWet®. NeverWet® is a system designed to create a highly water repellent coating on materials like metal, wood, aluminum, concrete, fiberglass and plastics. The Duke Energy team tested NeverWet® in a laboratory environment and found the treatment prevented radioactive contamination from sticking to submerged materials. The team successfully applied NeverWet® to a container used to transfer uranium fuel from the reactor to the used fuel pool. By using NeverWet®, the team eliminated the need to decontaminate the container, significantly reducing time and money while also further improving personnel safety by limiting employees’ exposure to radiation.

Vision, Leadership & Ingenuity Award

Duke Energy ECM Program team accepting the Vision, Leadership & Ingenuity Award (Photo credit: NEI)

Duke Energy ECM Program team accepting the Vision, Leadership & Ingenuity Award                 (Photo credit: NEI)

Another team of Duke Energy employees received the Vision, Leadership and Ingenuity Award for the Excellence in Cost Management (ECM) program. ECM is a program developed by Duke Energy in response to the competitive economic pressures facing nuclear power plants. ECM focuses on maintaining safety and reliability, while eliminating non-value added work and costs from the operation of Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet. ECM is not a “cost-cutting initiative,” but a program to enable sustainable cost savings and improved nuclear fleet performance. In all, the program has increased worker safety, innovation and employee engagement and saved Duke Energy more than $35 million in 2014.