Nuclear industry looking at off-site centers for ‘Flex’ backup equipment

Sometime this fall the U.S. nuclear industry will have reviewed bids by vendors seeking to set up one or more off-site centers that could provide backup equipment to power reactors in the event of an emergency.

The bid process is being carried out as part of the industry’s “Flex” effort launched in reaction to the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown in Japan during 2011, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) executive director for Fukushima response, Adrian Heymer, said in a June 22 conference call with reporters.

Flex provides an additional layer of backup power after an extreme event by stationing vital emergency equipment—generators, battery packs, pumps, air compressors and battery chargers—in multiple locations, according to an NEI website on the program.

Some of the largest equipment will be stored at one or more off-site centers and the cost of these centers will be shared by the U.S. nuclear power industry, Heymer said. The bid process is ongoing and is being coordinated by the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO).

NEI’s conference call was a progress report on the industry’s response to Fukushima, including the first tier of recommendations drafted by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff task force.

As industry officials have done in the past, Heymer pointed to the task force’s conclusion there is nothing about the Fukushima disaster that would justify prematurely closing plants in the U.S. nuclear fleet. The issue is improving “safety margins,” Heymer said.

NEI members are looking to understand the root cause and lessons learned from Fukushima, which occurred following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan. NEI’s biggest point of emphasis is preventing fuel damage and maintaining containment function during a severe accident.

NEI does believe it is in good shape to respond to NRC’s Tier 1 actions, which include draft guidance development for strategies to maintain core cooling if electric power is lost and a second tier of reliable spent fuel instrumentation. NRC has also requested detailed information on company inspections to verify measures for protecting against seismic and flooding hazards.

So far it appears that the early Fukushima standards to come out of NRC will have only a modest impact on nuclear plant costs, Heymer said. Equipment costs alone, not counting engineering and other costs, currently appear to be $600,000 to $1m per plant. That’s a doable cost, officials have said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at