HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Millstone Power Station, Connecticut's sole nuclear plant, is focusing on how best to guard against flooding and earthquakes to comply with tougher federal standards following the nuclear plant meltdown in Japan last year, the new chief of the power station said in an interview.
Millstone is assessing its ability to withstand flooding and "seismic events," Stephen E. Scace, who took over as site vice president at Millstone in January, told The Associated Press on Thursday. He expects upgrades and installation of new equipment in the next three to four years.
"We don't expect a lot of change or a lot of impact," he said. "We expect very little change to the design."
Millstone provides half of all power used in Connecticut and 12 percent in New England, plant spokesman Ken Holt said. It's one of four nuclear plants in the region that together account for 30 percent of all power in the region, according to ISO-New England, the region's grid operator. The others are Pilgrim in in Massachusetts, Seabrook in New Hampshire and Vermont Yankee.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered major safety changes in March for U.S. nuclear power plants just days before the first anniversary of the nuclear crisis in Japan. The orders require U.S. nuclear plants to install or improve venting systems to limit core damage in a serious accident and to install sophisticated equipment to monitor water levels in pools of spent nuclear fuel.
The tsunami sent three of the Japanese plant's reactors into meltdown in the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Millstone, which operates near Long Island Sound, could seal gates to protect against flooding or raise the gates that swing into place, Scace said.
"It's relatively straightforward to do that," he said.
Scace said he's not worried about safety breaches in the event of flooding or earthquakes.
"It's not a concern but a consideration," he said.
Dominion, which operates Millstone, also owns the North Anna Power Station in Virginia, which shut down after an earthquake last August. It reopened in November. Inspections by Dominion and federal regulators show the plant's twin reactors and other safety components did not suffer any functional damage during the temblor.
Nuclear stations will have to inspect plants to ensure they withstand severe flooding and earthquakes, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They are to complete the work in five years, he said.
"When plants were designed they had to look at the worst seismic events going back 200 years, to withstand that, plus a design margin on top of that," he said.
Scace said he's still optimistic that the industry will continue to build nuclear power plants, despite the disaster in Japan. But he expects construction to slow.
"It will be farther out than we might have anticipated five or 10 years ago," he said.
Scace has returned to Millstone, where he worked as an engineer beginning in 1970 and moved up to reactor engineer in 1973. He was site director-vice president in 1986 and remained at the Waterford power plant until 2006. He succeeded A.J. "Skip" Jordan, who became site vice president at Kewaunee Power Station in Carlton, Wis., where Scace previously worked.
Scace oversaw evaluation teams at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which establishes performance objectives, criteria and guidelines for the industry and evaluates nuclear plants.
That experience buoys John Sheehan, chairman of the Nuclear Energy Advisory Council, a panel established by the state to advise the governor, legislature and municipalities about safety issues at Millstone.
"He knows the best operating procedures at all ... nuclear operations," he said. "I don't see any expected change."