LIMERICK PA – As the world prepares next week (March 11, 2012) to mark the one-year anniversary of an earthquake and tsunami in Japan that in part dangerously crippled one of that nation’s nuclear energy facilities, officials at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station (LGS) claim they are ready to “expect the unexpected, and prepare for the unimaginable.”
In a statement Monday (March 5), Limerick Site Vice President Bill Maguire said his company had spent more than 3,800 man-hours completing activities and installing state-of-the-art equipment upgrades at LGS “to ensure the safety of our employees, the community, and the region” in circumstances like those that struck Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactor during 2011.
The natural disaster created conditions that caused a portion of the reactor complex to disintegrate, releasing radiation across an area of the Japanese countryside. In the U.S., nuclear energy regulators and others have since expressed concerns about LGS’ ability to withstand damage from an earthquake.
In response, Maguire said, Exelon has conducted extensive reviews of equipment, structures and procedures at Limerick, purchased additional backup emergency equipment, updated emergency procedures, and expanded emergency training. “Limerick Generating Station has one operational priority above all else: the continued safe and secure operation of the plant,” he said.
During the past 12 months, according to Maguire, Exelon engineers and experts have:
- Revised more than 1,300 safety procedures and guidelines, and created new ones, based on Fukushima observations;
- Verified the capability of all 10 of its nuclear facilities to withstand the most severe floods for their areas, and are in the process of re-evaluating base assumptions about maximum historical flooding;
- Broadened operator training; and
- Inspected and validated the seismic supports and restraints for thousands of pieces of equipment and pipes.
Exelon and other U.S. nuclear operating companies last month (February 2012) unanimously agreed to purchase or order additional safety equipment for their plants by March 31. It includes emergency and portable equipment such as diesel driven pumps, electric generators, hoses, fittings, and communications gear.
“We have additional safety measures planned for Exelon and the entire U.S. nuclear industry in the months ahead with additional guidance being issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),” said Mike Pacilio, president and chief nuclear officer of Exelon Nuclear.
In assessing conditions at Limerick, Maguire said his plant before the Fukushima event “had multiple physical barriers and layers of backup safety systems to ensure safe operations even in extreme events, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.” Equipment purchases and work in the past year has strengthened those barriers and systems, he added.
LGS, according to Maguire:
- Is protected from flooding by watertight doors, elevation of equipment above flood levels and specially engineered flood barriers;
- Can be automatically and safely shut down, and keep its fuel cooled even without electricity from the grid, using massive power generators that have second, third and fourth layers of backups;
- Has its reactors and other critical components protected by concrete walls up to five-feet thick; and
- Conducts frequent emergency training and exercises involving government emergency response agencies.
LGS photo by by Corey Cahill via Twitpic