Dominion says nuclear reactors ready to restart

AP News
Posted: Oct 21, 2011 5:13 PM
Dominion says nuclear reactors ready to restart

Two Virginia nuclear reactors shut down since an earthquake hit the state in August did not suffer damage that would prevent them from running and are ready to restart, the plant's operator told the government Friday.

But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review is continuing and the agency has not decided whether the reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Mineral, Va., should return to service.

"To date the staff has not identified any significant issues," said Eric Leeds, director of the office of nuclear reactor regulation. If the agency's staff determines the plant can be restarted safely, then regulators would conduct an enhanced inspection during and after the startup, he said.

David Heacock, president and chief nuclear officer of Dominion Nuclear, said company officials "have gone over North Anna very systematically _ every safety system, structure and component _ and found only cosmetic damage." He said safety designs "made it more than able to withstand this earthquake."

The reactors are about 11 miles from the quake's epicenter. Dominion says seismic vibrations from the 5.8-magnitude earthquake caused the reactors to shut down.

The NRC will hold a public hearing Nov. 1 to discuss the status of the review at Louisa Middle School in Mineral. The plant is about 50 miles northwest of Richmond, the Virginia capital.

In an interview after the meeting, Leeds said there was no timetable for making a decision on restarting the plant.

"We're sensitive to licensee (Dominion) and the needs to start up this plant, and sensitive to the ratepayers in Virginia that want to have electricity from this plant, but we also have to make our safety decision in the best way possible, and we're going to do what we have to do," he said. "And we won't provide authorization to restart this plant until we believe it's safe."

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said later it would be reasonable to expect a decision before the end of November.

The earthquake caused the ground to shake more than North Anna plant was designed to withstand, exceeding its "design basis," which was a first at an operating U.S. nuclear plant. The company says that lack of damage from the earthquake shows that the plant's seismic capability is higher than that design basis.

One agency commissioner, George Apostolakgis, said that when people hear that the earthquake exceeded the plant's design basis, they "get scared."

"So let's not forget that perceptions are very important. We have a situation here like Caesar's wife," he said in one of the few light moments in a session dominated by technical presentations. "She has to be not only honest but also be perceived as honest. So here we not only have to be safe, we have to be perceived as safe."

Also Friday, a coalition called Beyond Nuclear said it had filed a petition with the NRC requesting that the agency suspend the plant's operating license until several enforcement actions were taken.