Media CoverageNorth Anna's safety room is first in U.S.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

MINERAL — A small concrete dome near the North Anna Power Station holds all the tools that employees at the nuclear plant hope they never have to use.

There are shiny green John Deere tractors, generators, water pumps and electrical cables, all as pristine as if they were bought last week.

The new round room has everything workers would use to keep the reactors from overheating if a natural disaster hit and other automatic safety features, such as the backup diesel generators, were damaged.

“It’s ‘what would I need if I’m trapped here and I don’t have access to the outside?’ ” said plant Vice President Jerry Bischof. “The main part is to be able to keep water over the fuel.”

The building, called a Beyond Design Dome, is the latest safety feature at North Anna. It was completed late last year — and is the first of its kind in the United States — in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. In that case, an earthquake triggered a large tsunami in March 2011. The damage caused meltdowns in three reactors.

The dome contains enough equipment to safely power down each of the reactors along with a third set in case anything doesn’t work.

A magnitude-5.8 earthquake in August 2011 was felt at the North Anna plant, but inspectors combed through every part of the facility afterward and found no significant damage. Since then, the plant’s control room has been equipped with a computer that reads the seismic activity in half a dozen areas around the plant.

So far, those computers haven’t felt enough shaking to issue an alert.

“There’ve been several small earthquakes within 50 miles of the plant,” Bischof said, “but none of these sensors have been triggered.”