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Rare Virginia quake raises questions about North Anna reactor, waste safety.

The two-reactor North Anna nuclear power plant--the site of a recent earthquake that raised questions about the safety of the United States' nuclear reactors and their spent fuel--was the focus of an NRC meeting last week.

After a rare earthquake in Virginia on Aug. 23, the North Anna reactor near Louisa shut down safely.

The commissioners heard presentations from the plant's owner, Dominion Nuclear, about the company's restart activities at North Anna. The commission also heard from managers in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and the Region II office in Atlanta regarding the agency's inspections and technical reviews.

The August quake generated stronger ground motion than what was anticipated during the licensing of North Anna, which lies about 40 miles northwest of Richmond.

The NRC's two resident inspectors at North Anna monitored the plant's immediate response to the quake, and the agency conducted what is known as an "augmented inspection" Aug. 29. At that time, NRC staffers met with Dominion representatives to discuss the plant's response to the quake.

The NRC on Sept. 30 sent Dominion a "confirmatory action" letter, which indicates that since the quake exceeded design parameters for North Anna, the plant will remain shut down until Dominion demonstrates "to the commission that no functional damage occurred to those features necessary for continued operation without undue risk to the health and safety of the public."

The letter spells out the next steps in the restart process, beginning with Dominion submitting documentation responding to all NRC questions regarding restart safety.

"Inspectors from the NRC Region II office and other agency experts will conduct additional onsite inspections at North Anna to verify that adequate actions have been taken in response to the Confirmatory Action Letter," said Victor McCree, administrator of the NRC's Atlanta office.

Said Eric Leeds, NRC's directors of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation: "We're reviewing Dominion's information to ensure North Anna's systems will be able to keep the public safe and the plant won't start up again until we're satisfied on that point. We're working diligently on coming to a technically sound decision."

The NRC's directive will remain in effect until the NRC is satisfied that Dominion has demonstrated the plant is safe to operate; at that point, the agency would issue written permission for Dominion to restart the plant. North Anna Unit 2 is currently in a refueling outage and is shut down for refueling and associated maintenance.

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Publication:Nuclear Waste News
Date:Oct 24, 2011
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