Nuclear plants ordered to upgrade vents

TRI-CITY HERALDMarch 19, 2013 

WASHINGTON -- U.S. nuclear power plants must upgrade ventilation systems at 31 reactors with designs similar to those that melted down two years ago in Japan, under a Nuclear Regulatory Commission order, issued Tuesday, that stops short of requiring filtered vents, as some safety advocates and NRC's staff had urged.

Among those reactors is the Columbia Generating Station operated by Energy Northwest near Richland. It began planning to install hardened, or reinforced, vents at a cost of $25 million to $30 million a year ago, following an initial NRC order, said Energy Northwest spokesman Mike Paoli. Energy Northwest already has the capability to vent the reactor in case of a catastrophic natural emergency.

The hardened vents should be installed during the fuel outage in spring 2015 or 2017.

The filters that are at issue in the NRC order are required in Japan and much of Europe, but U.S. utilities say they are unnecessary and expensive.

The industry position is that the filters are not as effective as spraying water in an emergency to cool fuel and absorb radioactive contamination from air vented to the outside, Paoli said. However, Energy Northwest will do whatever the NRC requires, he said.

The order requires U.S. operators to upgrade vents to ensure they remain operable even during severe accidents.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report

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