New FLEX Regional Center Opens in Arizona

One of three FLEX buildings at McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, NC is almost complete.

One of three FLEX buildings at McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, NC is almost complete.

As part of the U.S. nuclear industry’s ongoing response to the events at Fukushima in 2011, additional portable equipment is being added to all U.S. nuclear sites.  This portable equipment is being selected based on a diverse and flexible coping strategy (FLEX) which adds was developed for adding more backup systems to cool nuclear reactors and used fuel storage pools and to maintain the integrity of reactor containment structures. The implementation of this strategy requires new facilities and equipment at all U.S. nuclear power plants, as well as the creation of two new regional response centers. These regional centers are being made available to provide a second source of portable equipment for U.S. nuclear sites.  One of these centers recently opened in Phoenix, Arizona; a second facility will open in Memphis, Tennessee in June. Equipment from these regional response centers will be used – in addition to equipment and other measures taken by plant operators – to respond to severe natural events. According to an article in Nuclear Engineering International “Equipment stored at the centres includes portable backup generators, portable high pressure pumps, portable low pressure pumps, diesel fuel transfer pumps, diesel fuel tanks, diesel powered light towers, water treatment, booster pumps, electrical distribution cabinets, cables, and hoses. Each centre houses five full sets of equipment, with four ready to be moved to any U.S. nuclear power plant at all times, and the equipment will undergo regular testing for operability” (May 2014). Equipment from these centers can be delivered within 24 hours via ground and air. Click here to read more about the new regional centers.

A second FLEX building at McGuire Nuclear Station is currently under construction.

A second FLEX building at McGuire Nuclear Station is currently under construction.

In addition to these regional centers, nuclear plant operators have been focused on efforts to provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity and cooling water that will protect critical plant safety systems at all times. Utilities across the country are constructing robust buildings and facilities to protect and house emergency equipment like generators, battery packs, pumps and vehicles that can move this equipment to areas needed in the event of a severe natural event in conjunction with extended loss of AC power to station equipment. While the country’s nuclear plants continue to operate safely, implementing the FLEX strategy will make them safer. Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station currently has three FLEX buildings under construction. The buildings are designed to industry guidance and are very robust; built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and winds up to 240 mph. The foundation of the buildings is nearly two feet in the ground to ensure their stability. All Duke Energy-owned and operated nuclear stations will have new FLEX buildings in the future.

Additional Resources:

NEI – Overview of the nuclear industry’s FLEX approach.

Nuclear Energy Three Years After Fukushima

NEI: FAQ: Nuclear Energy Industry Develops FLEX Strategy to Increase Safety, Address NRC’s Post-Fukushima Recommendations

New Regional Response Centers Add Another Level of Preparedness

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake struck the Japanese coastline, followed by a tsunami that flooded towns and claimed thousands of lives. The heavy floodwaters also damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Pictured above is the tsunami approaching the Fukushima Daiichi plant. (TEPCO)

Pictured above is the tsunami approaching the Fukushima Daiichi plant. (TEPCO)

In just a few months, the second anniversary of this tragic and unprecedented natural event will be observed solemnly and respectfully. The U.S. nuclear industry has learned a great deal in the months following the Fukushima nuclear event, resulting in added safety margins to an already safe technology.

Fukushima raised concerns that in an extreme natural event a nuclear station could lose off-site electricity sources and backup electric generators needed to power critical plant safety systems.  Heavy floodwaters severely degraded the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station’s ability to cool the reactor fuel cores and spent fuel pools following the tsunami largely due to a loss of almost all electric power sources.  

In response to such rare, extreme natural events, the industry has initiated a diverse “FLEX” strategy that provides an additional layer of safety through portable emergency response equipment maintained in close proximity to each station. This equipment includes transportable electric generators, pumps, hoses, batteries and other equipment not immediately available during the Fukushima event. 

Recently, the nuclear industry expanded this FLEX strategy by announcing plans to open two regional response centers by August 2014. One will be located in Memphis, Tennessee, and the other in Phoenix, Arizona.These regional response centers will be able to deliver a full set of portable safety equipment, radiation protection equipment, electrical generators, pumps and other emergency response equipment to an affected site within 24 hours. In response to an extreme natural event similar to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, these two centers could play a critical role in the response and recovery of an unlikely nuclear-related event.    

Regional response centers build on the defense in depth concept designed into nuclear plants. Nuclear plants are constructed with multiple backup safety systems that include redundant pumps, multiple backup electric generators and other equipment allowing the plant to reach cold shutdown even with significant equipment failure due to a natural event or problem with plant systems.

Regional response centers provide this additional “defense in depth” layer by making emergency equipment readily available to support each nuclear station in the country should an extreme natural event occur. If a nuclear site needed additional portable pumps, generators and other equipment beyond what it has stored at a nearby plant location, these regional centers would provide the necessary resources to support the station’s response.  

The Fukushima earthquake and tsunami had a significant impact on Japan’s people, economy  and the nuclear industry. Out of this unprecedented event has come better emergency response plans for the public and an even safer nuclear industry.

This infographic shows a small glimpse of what the FLEX plan includes.

This infographic shows a small glimpse of what the FLEX plan includes. Click on the picture to see a larger image.