One of the plants that participated in the initial phase of the NRCs SOARCA project is the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania. The plant features a boiling water reactor (BWR) similar to the most troubled reactors in Japan. The other plant is the Surry Power Station, a pressurized water reactor (PWR) in Virginia.
The commission did not respond to requests for comment on the status of its SOARCA project.
Publicly available information on the project states that the project's goal is to develop an enhanced understanding of the consequences of a nuclear power plant accident involving the release of radioactive material into the environment. SOARCA will give the public and decision makers the "latest basis" for assessing the consequences of severe accidents at nuclear power plants, the information notes.
The study also is designed to examine the value and the extent to which existing defense-in-depth measures at nuclear power plants will mitigate potential fallout in an accident.
According to a FAQ on the NRC's website, SOARCA is a research effort that seeks to "realistically estimate" the outcomes of the leak of a nuclear power plant's radioactive material.
A core component of SOARCA's tests is a software tool from Sandia National Laboratories called MELCOR. The NRC describes MELCOR as software that can be used to model the "progression of severe accidents in light-water reactor nuclear power plants."
The NRC also uses a separate software tool called MACCS2 to study the potential health implications of an accident involving radiation leaks.
"MELCOR is designed specifically for the purpose of predicting the response of nuclear power plants to severe accidents that might be initiated by low frequency events involving multiple safety system failures," said Randall Gauntt, the manager of Sandia's severe accident and consequence assessment department.
One of the scenario's the software is designed to model is a so-called Station Blackout scenario initiated by seismic damage, similar to what is happening in Japan right now, he said.
"The MELCOR code analyzes severe accidents in nuclear power plants, their progression through core melting, should inadequate cooling be available, and the release to the environment should containment systems fail," Gauntt said.
The potential public impact of radiation leaks are evaluated using the MACCS code, which was also developed at Sandia for the NRC, Gauntt said.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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Correction:This story as originally posted incorrectly rendered the name of the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses project. The article has been amended.