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Dominion, NRC Differ Over Va. Nuclear Plant Safety

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Dominion Virginia Power is trying to convince federal regulators it should be allowed to put its North Anna nuclear power plant back online sooner rather than later after it shut off automatically following last month's earthquake. Dominion would like to resume normal operations at the plant by the end of the month -- but regulators have suggested they need more time to make sure the reactors are safe.

The company is in the process of evaluating damage to the North Anna plant following the recent earthquake. On Thursday, company representatives met with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the agency's heaquarters in Rockville, Md. 

NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell says every nuclear plant in the country is designed to withstand some seismic activity depending on where the plant is located,but what North Anna experienced on August 23 is different. 

"It's not a surprise that the quake happened," he says. "The fact that the shaking from this particular quake was stronger than some people might expect at the plant ... that was the surprising part." The North Anna plant is the first nuclear plant in the United States to ever experience seismic activity beyond what it was designed to handle.

Neither Dominion nor the Commission has found any significant damage at North Anna so far, but both reactors at the plant automatically shut down during the quake and remain offline. At a meeting with NRC technical staff on Thursday, Dominion Nuclear vice president Eugene Grecheck said instrumentation at the plant used to measure damage from seismic activity showed no significant problems in the aftermath of the earthquake. 

"Obviously, we don't have instrumentation on every device in the plant, but you have to start from 'Where would I expect to see damage?' I didn't see it, so you can draw the conclusion that there was no damage to other places, " he said.

Leaders at the NRC say that because their engineers still have many questions about what happened to the structure during the earthquake, Dominion's plan to restart the plant at the end of September may be overly optimistic.

Since the North Anna plant has been offline, Grecheck says Dominion has been forced to bring in extra power from alternative sources, but the change has not affected any customers.

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