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Weeks, not months, for N. Anna reactors
North Anna reactors may be back online in a matter of weeks; NRC will meet with Dominion to discuss restart issues later this month.

 Officials say reactors may be back online within weeks.
FILE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 10/8/2011

By RUSTY DENNEN

It appears that North Anna Power Station's two nuclear reactors will be back online within a matter of weeks, not months, in the wake of the Aug. 23 earthquake.

That's the latest timeline as Dominion power, the plant's owner, prepares for a meeting on the topic with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Oct. 21 in Rockville, Md.

The agency said yesterday that the meeting was scheduled to review the readiness of North Anna's Units 1 and 2 to return to service. The reactors automatically shut down after the magnitude-5.8 quake, and have been idle ever since.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the agency will review inspections and technical reviews, and "whether the available information demonstrates the plant's safety systems are capable of carrying out their designed functions."

As to when the plant might return to producing electricity, "It's accurate to say weeks, not months."

He said it's unlikely all the reviews can be completed prior to the meeting.

"Dominion is providing us information, and we did send them another round of questions."

Meanwhile, an NRC restart inspection team was working at North Anna this week, and is expected to be there through next week.

Richard Zuercher, spokesman for Dominion's nuclear operations, said the company will focus on safety issues in its upcoming meeting with the NRC. They will examine "all the layers of safety margin, and why the earthquake didn't cause damage."

He said Unit 1 is ready for start-up; Unit 2 is being refueled.

David Heacock, Dominion Nuclear president and chief nuclear officer, said Monday that by the end of the month the company "expects to be able to satisfy the NRC" regarding restarting Unit 1.

Critics, meanwhile, say the company and the NRC should take enough time to thoroughly examine the impact of the quake before any restart is authorized.

There was some minor damage at the plant on Lake Anna, which sits about 12 miles from the quake epicenter near Mineral.

For example, some pipe insulation was shaken off, and there were some cracks in support buildings. Also 25 of 27 heavy steel casks containing highly radioactive spent fuel shifted slightly on their concrete foundations. None was damaged.

Dominion and NRC post-quake inspections found no damage to safety or operating systems. But the temblor briefly exceeded the ground-motion limit to which the plant was designed, and that remains under review.

The NRC is stepping up scrutiny of the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster in Japan.

A task force looking into the March 11 earthquake and tsunami made a number of recommendations to the NRC, including some the staff said should be implemented quickly. The agency will take up those recommendations on Tuesday in Rockville.

On the list: re-evaluation of plants' seismic and flood hazard protections; equipment inspections; maintaining safety during a prolonged loss of power; and strengthening emergency operating procedures and severe accident management guidelines.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Email: rdennen@freelancestar.com