Research and Test Reactor Emergency Preparedness

While research and test reactors (RTR) are vastly smaller than nuclear power plants, NRC regulations require RTRs to have emergency plans for coping with radiological emergencies at each facility. The NRC's guidance for an acceptable emergency plan is described in Regulatory Guide 2.6, "Emergency Planning for Research and Test Reactors."

Regulatory Guide 2.6 endorses ANSI-15.16-1982, "Emergency Planning for Research Reactors." The ANSI document and NUREG-0849, "Standard Review Plan for Review and Evaluation of Emergency Planning for Research and Test Reactors," the NRC's standard review plan for this area, identify the elements needed for coping with emergencies and minimizing the consequences of accidents at RTRs. The elements are covered in 10 planning standards:

  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Organization and Responsibilities
  4. Emergency Classification System
  5. Emergency Action Levels
  6. Emergency Planning Zones
  7. Emergency Response
  8. Emergency Facilities and Equipment
  9. Recovery
  10. Maintaining Emergency Preparedness

RTRs have low power levels relative to nuclear power plants. RTRs also have a much smaller amount of radioactivity in the core, so with their required safety features, the risk from these facilities is small. NUREG-0849 accounts for this small risk by specifying emergency planning zones (EPZs) to prevent radiological doses to the general public exceeding 1 rem whole body (less than two years' average annual U.S. dose from all sources) or 5 rem thyroid. The NUREG also specifies acceptable EPZs related to the steady-state thermal power of the reactor. These EPZs range in size from the RTR building for a reactor generating 2 megawatts or less, up to 800 meters for a reactor generating up to 50 megawatts. RTRs must train their personnel and perform emergency preparedness (EP) exercises in order to ensure the feasibility of the EP plan. The NRC routinely inspects the RTR EP plans. The four nuclear power plant emergency classification levels (Unusual Event, Alert, Site Area Emergency, and General Emergency) are applicable to RTRs. However, since an RTR's potential radiological release is highly unlikely and very small, RTRs do not entertain the general emergency classification of radiological accidents.

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