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Nuclear Site Emergency Procedures Enhanced

WASHINGTON (CN) - While saying that current emergency response procedures at the nation's nuclear reactors are sufficient to protect the health and safety of the public, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ordered procedure enhancements.

The changes affect staffing levels and responsibilities, coordination with off-site emergency response agencies, and protection of staff at the nation's 104 licensed nuclear reactors.

Fires in two facilities had overburdened regular staff with additional responsibilities like serving on the fire brigade and performing post-incident analysis, according to the NRC.

Many facilities have emergency plans that relied on using security personnel to fight fires, not taking into account that if the fire was part of, or coincident to, an attack on the facility, security guards would not be able to fight fires and repel an attack at the same time.

As a result, the NRC is requiring licensees to show that on-shift personnel can carry out their emergency duties without being distracted by other responsibilities.

Licensees also will have to document their ability to augment on-shift personnel shortly after an emergency is declared, and to create an on-site Technical Support Center that relieves reactor control room staff of emergency response duties so they can focus exclusively on reactor safety.

A facility's responses to emergencies are defined in Emergency Action Levels (EAL) that corresponds to the danger posed by an incident. EALs detail what actions are taken in response to the increasing danger of an emergency situation and include notification protocols for off-site emergency responders.

Currently EALs do not have to include a response to a hostile attack on a facility. The NRC now will require licensees to include the protocol for such a response in their EAL definitions. The protocols will include preplanned activities expected from state and local law enforcement agencies, such as traffic control and perimeter security.

The agency also is standardizing its requirement that operators of nuclear power reactors have the ability to notify state and local officials within 15 minutes of becoming aware that a non-normal situation is developing in or around their facility.

The agency's enhanced requirements are effective Dec. 23, 2011.

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