Cablegate: Report On Nuclear Regulatory Commisison Officials'

Published: Wed 15 Dec 2004 11:38 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) Summary: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield visit to Romania in late
September provided the USG insight into the strong Romanian
civil nuclear program. End Summary.
First Visit to Romania by NRC Commissioner
2. (U) On September 25-28th, 2004, Commissioner Jeffrey
Merrifield visited Bucharest, Romania and the Cernavoda
nuclear power plant. His Chief of Staff, Margaret Doane,
and Jodi Lieberman, Office of International Programs, USNRC
accompanied him. While in Bucharest, the Commissioner met
with Dr. Lucien Biro, Chairman of the Romanian National
Commission for Nuclear Activities Control (CNCAN) and, at
the close of his visit, participated in a press conference
with Dr. Biro and local media. He also traveled to the
Cernavoda nuclear power plant, located roughly 1 hours
outside of Bucharest. This was the first visit of an NRC
Commissioner or delegation to Romania. The purpose of the
visit was to discuss the regulatory and operating experience
of the CANDU-6 reactor design in light of NRC's activities
in connection with a U.S. utility's interest in the Advanced
CANDU Reactor (ACR) 700.
CNCAN President Discussions Reveal Operational Readiness
--------------------------------------------- -----------
3. (U) Commissioner Merrifield began his visit with a
meeting at CNCAN headquarters in Bucharest with Dr. Lucian
Biro, CNCAN President. In addition to Dr. Biro, the
Commissioner met with Camelia Liutiev, European Integration
and International Cooperation Section, Viviana Grama,
Director, Special Material Section and Lucian Goicea,
Director, Quality Control Division. Timothy Phillips,
Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, also
attended the meeting.
4. (U) Dr. Biro explained that the CNCAN President is
appointed by the Prime Minister and has the status of State
Secretary. He reports to the Prime Minister through the
Chancellor of the Prime Minister. He added that much of
CNCAN's regulatory structure was established using NRC as a
5. (U) Dr. Biro presented a brief history of civilian
nuclear activities in Romania, the development of CNCAN and
the current status of work being done to complete Unit 2 at
the Cernavoda NPP. Although there was significant political
pressure to build Soviet-designed VVER reactors at
Cernavoda, the CANDU-6 reactor design was ultimately chosen
for the site because of its strong seismic design qualities,
use of a containment structure, and better quality assurance
6. (U) Construction of the five CANDU-6 units began in 1980
at the Cernavoda facility, during the regime of Nicolae
Ceausescu. Construction was halted with the demise of the
Ceausescu regime, but work resumed in the mid-1990s with a
decision by the new government to complete Unit 1 with the
assistance of CANDU reactor vendor Atomic Energy of Canada
Limited (AECL) and Italian firm Ansaldo S.A., which provided
the "balance of plant" equipment.
7. (U) Unit 1 was commissioned in 1996, with Unit 2
scheduled for completion in 2006/7. Dr. Biro stated that
Nuclearelectrica S.A. (SNN), the utility operating
Cernavoda, had already implemented nearly 160 safety
improvements at Unit 2, and had secured both a 235 million
Euro loan, and a $400 million loan from the Canadian
government for completion of Unit 2. He added that SNN is
working to secure outside investment to fund completion of
Unit 3, noting that South Korea has expressed interest in
providing funding for the project.
8. (U) Dr. Biro stated that, although CNCAN has 175
authorized slots for employees, only 130 positions are
currently filled. While salaries at CNCAN are reasonably
high, SNN is able to offer still higher salaries, making it
difficult for Dr. Biro to attract employees. Moreover, he
noted that CNCAN staff attrition is a problem, with
employees either retiring, or emigrating to Canada, the U.K.
and South Africa. CNCAN is a full-fee recovery agency,
relying principally on licensee fees for its budget (as does
NRC). Dr. Biro explained that, as a political appointee,
his salary is capped, preventing the salaries of his
employees from rising as well. However, there is some
interest in changing his status. Housed in a rather cramped
section of a larger government building, CNCAN will soon
move to its own, more elaborate building. Dr. Biro stated
that he had secured a 10 million euro bank loan to construct
a new CNCAN facility in Bucharest, scheduled for completion
by 2006/7.
9. (SBU) With regard to Romanian EU accession in 2007,Dr.
Biro noted that CNCAN had implemented many of the EU Aquis
chapter requirements and had taken steps to revise CNCAN
regulations to be in line with those of the EU in areas such
as physical protection, quality assurance and safeguards.
As CNCAN also has licensing responsibility for radioactive
sources, Dr. Biro explained that all sources above a certain
activity level (i.e. "High-risk radioactive sources") are
tagged so that their movement can be tracked through a GPS
10. (U) In response to a question posed by Commissioner
Merrifield regarding cooperation with other CANDU
regulators, Dr. Biro noted that the CANDU Senior Regulators'
Group was the main forum for exchange of information. That
group meets annually. He advised that Romania also has
agreements with neighboring countries, including Greece,
Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Russia for notification in
the event of a nuclear accident or incident. CNCAN and
Cernavoda conduct emergency exercises and will host CONVEX
3, an international emergency exercise organized by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), next year. Dr.
Biro invited NRC to observe the exercise. Although CNCAN
currently has no emergency operations center, one will be
included in the new building. Cernavoda also lacks an
offsite emergency operations center, although Dr. Biro
stated that one will be built in the future. Through one of
the three cellular telephones he always carries, Dr. Biro
has direct access to the Romanian government civil command -
and the Prime Minister, if necessary - in the event of a
nuclear incident or accident. In closing, Dr. Biro
expressed interest in touring the NRC Headquarters
Operations Center at some point. He visited the backup
emergency operations center in NRC Region IV in 2001.
Site Visit to Cernavoda
11. (U) Commissioner Merrifield and the delegation
proceeded to the Cernavoda site later the same day, where
they were met by representatives from SNN, the
Canadian/Italian consortium "CNE-Invest", and the Romanian
management/construction partner "CNE-PROD". The
Commissioner explained that a U.S. utility, Dominion Power,
has expressed an interest in the possibility of building an
advanced CANDU reactor, an ACR-700, at one of its stations.
The NRC is performing a pre-application review for ACR-700
12. (U) Vic Stobie, the Canadian safety and licensing
manager for CNE-Invest, presented background information on
the construction project to complete Unit 2. Of the 1664
slots allocated for the project, 1457 are allocated for
Romanian companies. At present, the project staff consists
of 109 AECL, 68 Ansaldo and 1288 Romanian workers. 199
positions remain to be filled. Mr. Stobie discussed the
process AECL, SNN, and Ansaldo went through to review the
existing materials and equipment in Unit 2, abandoned in the
1980s, followed by an assessment and refurbishment program
started in 2002. He noted that preservation of the existing
unit hardware was very good and that the majority of items
to be replaced before work started on Unit 2 were so-called
"perishable" items, e.g. those that were composed of
elastomers. The Commissioner asked the extent to which the
construction/management team was able to apply efficiencies
in Unit 2 based on lessons learned in the completion of Unit
1. Mr. Stobie indicated that much of the construction staff
that had worked on Unit 1 is now working at Unit 2. Staff
is also coming from the CANDU plant in Qinshan, China.
Procedures had also been updated based on Unit 1 experience.
13. (U) During the presentation, Dan Bigou, the Unit 1
station manager, briefly described the inspection and
licensing process for Cernavoda. There are currently two
CNCAN inspectors at Unit 1 and two at Unit 2. All CNCAN
inspectors have unescorted access to the plant and its
facilities. Unit 1 has a two-year operating license; SNN
must apply for a license renewal every two years. The
process will remain the same for Unit 2. Regarding
licensing of Unit 2, SNN will need to seek authorization
from CNCAN for a number of stages in the commissioning
efforts, including authorization to receive and store heavy
water and nuclear fuel, and authorization to load heavy
water and for manual fuel loading. The utility will also
need to seek CNCAN approval for achieving criticality and
subsequent increases of power at 25% increments until 100%
power is reached. CNCAN is extremely involved in licensing
activities at Cernavoda involving Unit 1 and completion of
unit 2. During the visit, Dr. Biro spent a lengthy amount
of time reviewing SNN submissions to CNCAN for permission to
restart Unit 1, then in a maintenance outage.
Commissioner's Visit to Unit 2
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14. (U) Following discussions with SNN, AECL, and Ansaldo,
the Commissioner toured the partially completed Unit 2. The
tour included visits to the spent fuel pond, the partially
completed calandria and supporting structures, and the
refueling machine. Because the stainless steel calandria,
which holds the fuel and moderator, was not yet sealed, the
team was provided a rare inside view of the calandria vessel
through one of the nozzle holes. This is typically not
possible because this hatch is an access hatch that is
welded shut at a later period during construction
15. (U) The plant tour concluded with a visit to the
Intermediate Nuclear Spent Fuel Storage facility (DICA),
which is based on the AECL-designed "MACSTOR" system. When
completed, DICA will permit storage of 300,000 spent fuel
bundles from operation of Units 1 and 2 over the next fifty
years. The average transfer rate is 5000 bundles per year.
There will eventually be 27 storage modules, each of them
having a capacity of 12,000 spent fuel bundles. Only one
module has thus far been completed.
Unit 1 Tour
16. (U) On the second day of discussions at Cernavoda, the
Commissioner met with Vasil Simonov, Health and Safety
Manager (CNE-PROD), Marian Serban, Director for Technical
Issues and Nuclear Safety (CNE-PROD) and Unit 1 manager
Bigou. Following a brief overview of Unit 1 operating
information and technical characteristics, the delegation
toured Unit 1, which was just coming out of a maintenance
outage. During pre-tour discussions, the Commissioner
inquired whether the plant management maintains a corrective
action program. Plant Manager Bigou noted that the
corrective action program at Cernavoda is a performance-
based system that includes use of root cause analysis for
events. On average, Mr. Bigou stated that they identify and
review roughly seven hundred events per year and hold weekly
meetings to review the events and follow-on corrective
action. The plant management also maintains an event
17. (U) The Commissioner asked whether the plant uses level
1 PSA to manage the backlog of corrective actions. Mr.
Serban responded by noting that the plant management has
been trying to move to a more risk-based system in order to
prioritize corrective actions in response to events and has
been discussing this with CNCAN. He indicated that the IAEA
had conducted an International Probabilistic Safety
Assessment Review Team (IPSART) mission that validated
CNCAN's PSA model and expects to complete an external PSA by
December 2004.
18. (U) The Commissioner asked if the plant management is
confident that the staff can effectively identify problems
for the corrective action program, to which Mr. Serban
replied that, while the process is working well, there is
always room for improvement. In 2002, when the plant moved
to an event analysis process, there was a significant
increase in the number of events identified. However, he
did note that investigation reports remain an area for
19. (U) Mr. Bigou added that Cernavoda uses several other
CANDUs to benchmark performance, including sister units
Gentilly and Point Lepreau in Canada, but would also like to
develop a relationship with a U.S. plant. He continued
that, as Canada moves to more U.S. style practices,
Cernavoda can benefit indirectly because of its association
with the Canadian plants. Commissioner Merrifield suggested
that the U.S. experience with restart of Browns Ferry Unit 1
in Alabama might be helpful in completion of Unit 2 and
potential completion of the other Cernavoda units.
Press Conference at CNCAN Headquarters
--------------------------------------------- ---------------
20. (U) Following the delegation's return to Bucharest, Dr.
Biro arranged for a press conference with Commissioner
Merrifield and local media at CNCAN headquarters.
Politically adept, Dr. Biro was able to convene a
significant number of radio, television and print press
outlets. The press conference was extensively covered in
local media. During the press conference, Dr. Biro
presented the Commissioner with a statuette commemorating
thirty years of U.S.-Romanian peaceful nuclear cooperation.
Media questions were fairly benign, although one reporter
requested the Commissioner's opinion of the recent Slovak
Government decision to complete Units 3 and 4 at the
Mochovce nuclear power plant, alluding that these reactors
were to be of the same design as those at the now closed
Chornobyl site in Ukraine. [Note: The reporter was
incorrect. Units 3 and 4, begun during the Soviet era, are
likely to be similar to Units 1 and 2 at Mochovce, which are
not "Chornobyl-style" RBMK reactors but are instead VVER-
440/213 style units. End note.]
21. (SBU) Commissioner Merrifield's visit proved to be very
informative, adding to NRC's knowledge of the unique
Romanian civilian nuclear power programs. CNCAN President
Biro is a resourceful leader dedicated to ensuring a strong
nuclear safety culture. Although Dr. Biro's hands-on
approach is admirable and his work thorough, CNCAN lacks
"defense-in-depth." Dr. Biro does not have a deputy, and it
evident that he does not delegate very much of the key
decision making to CNCAN management. Should Dr. Biro be
unable to perform his duties as President of CNCAN, it is
questionable who on his staff would be prepared to step up
and keep the work moving. End Comment.
22. (SBU) Note: This cable is based mainly on NRC notes.
Embassy personnel did not attend all meetings in Romania.
End note.
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