Two nuclear reactors at Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna Power Station not significantly damaged from Aug. 23 earthquake, company responded appropriately when reactors automatically shut down, NRC says

MINERAL, Virginia , October 5, 2011 () – NRC says Dominion responded appropriately after quake shut down Va. plant's reactors

Two nuclear reactors at Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna Power Station did not sustain any significant damage from the Aug. 23 earthquake and the company responded appropriately when the reactors were automatically shut down, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday.

The federal agency held a public meeting at the power plant in Mineral to discuss its inspections following the 5.8-magnitude earthquake. An NRC inspection team spent three weeks at the facility about 11 miles from the quake's central Virginia epicenter to examine the reactors, which have been shut down since the earthquake.

"Never at any point during North Anna's response to this event was the public at any risk," Victor McCree, a regional administrator with the NRC, told the standing-room-only crowd of more than 175 people.

Confirming its preliminary findings, the NRC said that the ground movement exceeded levels for which the plant was originally designed and licensed. McCree said neither Dominion nor the agency found any significant damage to safety-related equipment and qualified the damage to other structures or instruments as "cosmetic."

The agency also said that functions of safety systems were maintained but there were some equipment issues, including problems with one of the plant's backup generators, and an additional power source for its seismic alarm panel, which lost some of its functions during the quake. Seismic monitors also "may not have been located in the best places to accurately" measure ground movement, the NRC said.

Dominion already has worked to address NRC's list of concerns, including installing new seismic monitoring equipment, said David Heacock, president and chief nuclear officer of Dominion Nuclear.

"We have taken care of our necessary actions," Heacock said. The NRC must now review Dominion's upgrades and NRC officials said the full inspection report is expected to be published by the end of the month.

While the meeting was meant to discuss the NRC's inspection findings, public questions quickly shifted to when the reactors at the nuclear power station would be restarted, or even if Dominion should be allowed to restart them. Various groups have said the earthquake is a wake-up call about the danger of another event in the area.

"Rest assured that we will have assurance that there's adequate protection and adequate safety before we authorize either unit to restart," McCree said.

Last week, the NRC sent a letter to Dominion confirming that the energy company won't restart the nuclear reactors until it is given permission from the agency.

Dominion's Heacock said the company's testing and analysis verifies that the station is "safe, in good shape" and that both reactors will be "ready to restart safely when we receive NRC permission to do so."

A team of NRC inspectors is set to review Dominion's request to restart the units beginning Wednesday, and the agency is to discuss the restart of the reactors at a meeting Oct. 21. The NRC did not provide a timetable for the review process.

The NRC has said it plans to order all U.S. plants later this year to update their earthquake risk analyses, a complex exercise that could take two years for some plants. The review, launched well before the East Coast quake and the Japan nuclear disaster in March, marks the first complete update to seismic risk in years for the nation's 104 existing reactors, despite research showing greater hazards.

The two North Anna reactors are among 27 in the eastern and central U.S. that may need upgrades, according to a preliminary NRC review.

When fully operational, the Virginia facility produces enough energy to power about 450,000 homes. Dominion is using other power sources in its generation system or is buying power to make up for the plant being offline.

The company is still weighing the addition of a third reactor at the Louisa County power plant but has not yet committed to move forward. The company will reassess when it receives operating approval from the NRC, expected in 2013.

Dominion Virginia Power is a subsidiary of Dominion Resources Inc., one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy and has the nation's largest natural gas storage system. It serves retail customers in 15 states.

Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.

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