United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Plant Restart Discussions following Natural Disasters

                                 UNITED STATES
                         NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
                     OFFICE OF NUCLEAR REACTOR REGULATION
                          WASHINGTON, D.C. 20555-0001

                                March 28, 1997


NRC ADMINISTRATIVE LETTER 97-03:  PLANT RESTART DISCUSSIONS FOLLOWING NATURAL  
                                  DISASTERS


Addressees

All holders of operating licenses or construction permits for nuclear power
reactors.

Purpose

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is issuing this administrative
letter to inform addressees about a recently adopted internal practice.  This
practice involves coordinating the assessment of offsite recovery and onsite
restart activities following a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood,
storm, earthquake, etc.) where offsite damage may be substantial or
undetermined.  This administrative letter does not transmit or imply any new
or changed requirements or staff positions.  No specific action or written
response is required.

Background

Numerous events have occurred in recent years in which natural disasters have
affected power reactor facilities.  Most notable of these is Hurricane Andrew
and its impact on the Turkey Point Station.  The licensee for the Turkey Point
plant shut the reactors down in anticipation of the storm.  Onsite damage from
the hurricane was extensive.  After that event, the licensee repaired the
damage and was ready to restart the plant before the offsite emergency
preparedness infrastructure was ready to support the restart.  An assessment
of offsite conditions and infrastructure prior to restart was necessary to
assure emergency preparedness in the event of a subsequent reactor accident.

Events have also occurred in which plants have shut down in anticipation of
hurricane damage, which turned out to be minimal.  Despite the absence of
onsite damage, either some offsite damage occurred that affected the state of
offsite emergency preparedness, or some damage occurred offsite such that the
state of offsite emergency preparedness could not be determined immediately. 
For these cases, the NRC coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) and the licensees involved to ensure that the restarts occurred
after the offsite emergency preparedness infrastructure could safely support
them.

9703250239.                                                                AL 97-03
                                                                March 28, 1997
                                                                Page 2 of 3


Discussion

Although the overall responsibility for confirming the adequacy of
radiological emergency preparedness of commercial nuclear power plants is
vested with the NRC, it relies on FEMA's assessment of offsite emergency
planning and response activities when carrying out this responsibility. 

Section III of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Between FEMA and the NRC,
dated June 17, 1993, lists responsibilities for both agencies for cooperating
in the recovery from a disaster that affects the offsite emergency
preparedness infrastructure surrounding power reactors.  FEMA's headquarters
(HQ) in Washington, D.C., is responsible for providing findings and
determinations to the NRC concerning the adequacy of offsite preparedness in
the areas surrounding power reactor sites following a severe natural event. 
FEMA HQ bases its assessment on information from State and local governmental
authorities, as well as from the affected FEMA regional office and the NRC.

In two recent instances (Hurricane Bertha, July 1996 and Hurricane Fran,
September 1996), FEMA HQ chartered special evaluation teams to assess whether
the offsite emergency preparedness infrastructure could support the restart of
plants that had shut down in anticipation of hurricanes that affected the
sites.  These teams consisted of FEMA and NRC regional representatives, State
and local emergency management representatives, and, in a limited capacity,
power reactor licensee personnel.  These teams provided assessments to FEMA HQ
for its ultimate determinations that offsite emergency preparedness could
support plant restart in both cases.  The chartering of these special
evaluation teams helped ensure a timely assessment of the condition of the
offsite infrastructure and was based on experience gained with Hurricane Opal
(October 1995) and the Quad Cities tornado (May 1996).

In some cases, a natural disaster may occur where onsite damage is minimal,
but offsite damage may be substantial or undetermined.  In these cases, the
plant may be ready to start up shortly after the event.  Communications in
these cases between the licensee and NRC, the NRC and FEMA, and FEMA and
offsite officials will be aggressive; however, stringent protocols will be
observed to ensure that FEMA and the NRC operate within the guidelines of the
MOU.

The NRC uses FEMA's determinations to inform power reactor licensees when the
condition of the offsite emergency preparedness infrastructure can support a
reactor restart.  The Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR), as well as
NRC regional offices, have adopted a communication protocol that links key
personnel in the two agencies and the affected licensee organization.  An
overview of this protocol is attached.  Some of the key points of this
protocol are:

1. NRC regional office personnel maintain close contact with the affected
   power reactor licensee to determine the state of onsite emergency
   preparedness and the plans for restart.  The NRC regional office
   communicates this information rapidly to NRR.
.                                                                AL 97-03
                                                                March 28, 1997
                                                                Page 3 of 3


2. FEMA regional office personnel maintain close contact with their evaluators
   in the field, the affected State and local emergency management officials,
   and the affected NRC regional office to determine the state of offsite
   emergency preparedness.  The FEMA regional office communicates this
   information rapidly to FEMA HQ.

3. The final assessment that offsite emergency preparedness can support a
   power reactor restart originates from FEMA HQ.

4. A single individual in NRR serves as the point of contact with FEMA HQ to
   receive this assessment.  The individual communicates this information
   rapidly to NRR management and the cognizant NRC regional office.

5. After the assessment from FEMA is received and discussed with NRR
   management, the NRC regional administrator informs the affected licensee
   that the condition of the offsite emergency preparedness infrastructure can
   support a safe reactor restart. 

The NRC has developed this protocol as a result of discussions with FEMA, as
well as lessons learned from Hurricane Andrew and other events.  The objective
of this protocol is to ensure that aggressive and rapid information flow
occurs between the involved organizations following natural disasters at power
reactors.  The NRC expects that the use of this protocol will ensure that the
determination that the condition of the offsite emergency preparedness
infrastructure can support a reactor restart will be made before the licensee
is actually ready to restart the reactor plant(s).  In the event that the
determination is not made before the licensee is ready to restart the
plant(s), the NRC will evaluate the need to delay the restart through the
issuance of an order or confirmatory action letter.  By accomplishing this
protocol, the licensee, FEMA, and NRC can provide for safe and rapid restarts
of power reactors in the wake of these disasters and assure that the offsite
emergency preparedness infrastructure can function as expected if called upon
in an emergency.

This administrative letter requires no specific action or written response. 
If you have any questions about this letter, please contact the contact listed
below or the appropriate Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) project
manager.


                                       signed by 

                                       Thomas T. Martin, Director
                                       Division of Reactor Program Management
                                       Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

Contact: W. Maier, NRR
         (301) 415-2926
         E-mail:  wam@nrc.gov

Attachments:
1. Information Flow for Restart Considerations 
      Following Natural Disasters at 
      Power Reactors
Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, March 29, 2012