The U.S. nuclear energy industry added another layer of public protection with the opening of a regional response center established as part of the industry's post-Fukushima safety strategy (see video below). The Phoenix response center, like one that will open later this year in Memphis, will be capable of delivering complete sets of emergency equipment to help facilities respond safely to extreme events no matter what causes them.
Equipment at the response centers supplements permanent safety systems built into nuclear energy facilities and multiple sets of portable, backup safety equipment already positioned at the facilities. Companies also have protocols in place to share backup safety equipment already stored at nuclear power plants.
"With the opening of this center today, and the one in Memphis next month, the U.S. nuclear industry adds yet another layer of safety and protection for the public and our employees," said Mike Pacilio, the executive sponsor for regional response centers on the Nuclear Energy Institute's Fukushima Response Steering Committee. Pacilio also serves as president of Exelon Nuclear and chief nuclear officer of Exelon Generation (NYSE: EXC), the nation's largest nuclear energy company.
"This is part of the industry's strategy to provide flexible and tailored backup safety equipment at nuclear power plants in the event of extreme unexpected events. Each of these centers is designed to deliver emergency backup equipment anywhere in America within 24 hours," Pacilio said.
Equipment stored at the center includes portable backup generators, pumps, standardized couplings and hoses. Each center 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.
The startup cost for each facility is about $40 million, with annual operating costs of about $4 million. The costs will be shared by companies operating 100 reactors that generate one-fifth of America's electricity.
To develop and operate the two facilities, the industry established the Strategic Alliance for FLEX Emergency Response, or SAFER. The SAFER team includes industry personnel and services of the Pooled Equipment Inventory Co. (PEICo) and Areva Inc. PEICo has provided replacement equipment for emergent needs in the nuclear energy industry for more than three decades through the Pooled Inventory Management program. Areva provides industry-leading services that include emergency response planning and mobilization, project management, engineering, licensing, outage management, and field response experience.
"Equipment from the regional response centers will enable all nuclear plant operators to protect their reactors and used fuel storage pools until normal power and cooling systems are restored. This is in addition to other measures, including built-in safety systems, the use of on-site portable emergency equipment, and portable equipment and materials on hand at all 62 nuclear energy facilities that can be utilized and shared during an emergency," said Randy Edington, executive vice president and chief nuclear officer of Arizona Public Service Co., which owns and operates the Palo Verde nuclear facility.
"This additional step of activating the regional response centers raises the nuclear industry's safety network to its highest level ever. We are confident that we have the best prepared and most highly protected commercial nuclear energy facilities in the world."
In response to the 2011 Fukushima accident, the industry established a flexible and diverse (FLEX) safety strategy to address the key lessons learned from Japan, including the loss of electrical power needed to maintain effective cooling. The regional response centers are one element of the FLEX approach. The two regional response centers, one near Phoenix and one near Memphis, will be capable of delivering the needed equipment within 24 hours using ground and air transport.
"This facility is important," Pacilio said. "It expands our defense-in-depth safety commitment and adds tremendously to our ability to manage any extreme event."
NEI video provides overview of the nuclear industry's FLEX approach to enhancing safety: