* Low natural gas and power prices could shut reactors
* Filtered vents could cost up to $30 million
* Filtered vents would be in addition to hardened vents
By Scott DiSavino
Jan 9 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
staff on Wednesday briefed the commission on its recommendation
to require nuclear operators to spend tens of millions of
dollars to install filtered vents at more than two dozen
Energy analysts said the filtered vents recommendation,
which was in response to the staff's review of lessons learned
from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, is just one
of several factors that could increase the cost of nuclear power
and possibly lead to the shutdown of some older reactors.
Other factors include: the low cost of natural gas from
record shale production that has pushed power prices to decade
lows and reduced electric revenues; the lack of government
action to limit greenhouse gas emissions; states' efforts to
lower power capacity prices; and increasingly strict
environmental water and other regulations, the analysts said.
At the NRC meeting on Wednesday, the nuclear industry
presented its less costly proposals to filter radioactive
contaminants out of a reactor's containment structure in the
event of an accident.
During the question and answer period, NRC Commissioner
William Magwood referred to the industry proposals as a toolbox
of several options that would allow plant operators to decide
which practices, including the possible installation of a
filter, works best to reduce contaminants from their reactor.
The industry said no two reactors were alike so operators
should have various options to reduce possible contamination
from each site.
The NRC staff, however, recommended that the nation's 31
boiling water reactors with Mark I and Mark II containment types
- similar to those damaged at Fukushima - install filtered vent
systems. The 104 reactors in the United States provide about 20
percent of the nation's power.
No U.S. reactors have filtered vents, Scott Burnell, a
spokesman at the NRC told Reuters, noting the agency's approach
to this point has been on ensuring accidents do not occur in the
Many countries in Europe and other parts of the world
already require filtered containment systems or are considering
the safety benefits of filters since the Fukushima accident,
according to an NRC report.
The NRC said the staff has estimated the filtered vents,
which could be as large as the trailer on an 18-wheeler truck,
could cost about $15 million. Others estimated the equipment
could cost $30 million or more.
TVA ON VENTS
Preston Swafford, chief nuclear officer at the Tennessee
Valley Authority (TVA), told the commissioners that several of
the flexible or so called "FLEX" efforts TVA and others in the
industry have put in place, such as the addition of bigger
portable pumps and generators, would allow operators to filter
out more contaminants before they reach the atmosphere in the
event of an accident.
Swafford said TVA had already planned to spend about $185
million on Fukushima-related upgrades and studies, adding that
the company was studying the benefits of a filter such as the
one recommended by the NRC staff.
He said such a filter could cost about $20 million per unit.
TVA has three General Electric Co designed reactors with
Mark I containments at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in
"This is not a decision making meeting for the NRC. The
different parties will present the pros and cons of installing
filters. We're basically at the beginning of the process ... and
will come away from this meeting with a lot more information,"
Tom Kauffman, a spokesman at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an
industry trade group, told Reuters.
A spokesman at the NRC said the commission had not set a
date to decide on the filtered vent issue, but hoped to have
something later this year.
In one of its earlier decisions after reviewing the lessons
learned from Fukushima, the NRC in March required the operators
of Mark I and II reactors to modify or install hardened vents to
more effectively and safely release excessive containment
pressure after a serious accident.
Mark I containments already have hardened vents and will
likely only need to modify their vents to meet the NRC
requirements. But the operators of the nation's eight Mark II
reactors will have to install hardened vents as they do not
exist in that containment type.
The nuclear industry said it had until the end of February
to submit plans to the NRC on how they will meet the hardened
vent rules over the next two 18- or 24-month refueling cycles.
"If filtered vents are required, that will change everything
because the current plans only include hardened vents - not
hardened and filtered vents," NEI's Kauffman said.
The NRC said however that the staff's concept would be that
the Mark Is and IIs would have two cycles from the issuance of
the proposed order to install the filtered vents.