August 26, 2011: Query to NRC: Did Virginia Earthquake Exceed North Anna Nuclear Reactor Design

WASHINGTON, DC (August 26, 2011) – In the wake of the 5.8 earthquake that hit within 10 miles of the North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia this week, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today queried the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on whether the earthquake exceeded the seismic safety specifications for the reactors. Rep. Markey also asked whether these safety specifications had incorporated within them modern geologic information.
 
Both a recent report from Rep. Markey as well as the NRC’s Near Term Task Force on Fukushima recommended that sound and up-to-date modern geologic information be factored into seismic safety requirements for nuclear power plants.
 
I am concerned that outdated seismic safety assumptions may have rendered North Anna’s reactors more vulnerable than they should have been to Tuesday’s earthquake,” said Rep. Markey, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “There needs to be a seismic shift in the way in which these plants are protected from earthquakes or other natural disasters, and I call on the NRC to immediately make the necessary upgrades.”
 
A full copy of the letter to the NRC can be found HERE.
 
Rep. Markey’s recent report “Fukushima Fallout” found that modern geologic information has not been factored into seismic safety requirements for nuclear power plants, and that the NRC has not incorporated its technical staff’s recommendation to do so “even though the new information indicates a much higher probability of core damage caused by an earthquake than previously believed.”
 
The day after the August 23 Virginia earthquake, Rep. Markey wrote to the NRC urging the Commission to institute and enforce regulations that ensure that both diesel and secondary battery generators are properly maintained and operate as intended after one of the backup diesel generators at the North Anna nuclear power plant failed to operate.
 
In the wake of the Japanese nuclear meltdowns, Rep. Markey also introduced H.R. 1242, the Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011. This legislation called for the NRC to ensure that nuclear power plants and spent nuclear fuel pools can withstand and adequately respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, strong storms, long power outages, or other events that threaten a major impact.
 
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Response from NRC, sent Oct. 25, 2011, can be found HERE