The coronavirus outbreak has forced the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico to reduce the amount of nuclear waste it has received for disposal, dropping to about four shipments in March from 24 in January. A number of staffers have been allowed to work from home and the remaining onsite employees are performing only essential mission-critical tasks.
A second worker at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina has tested positive for coronavirus, and managers are monitoring possible cases with 52 employees who are symptomatic and 72 considered asymptomatic. "We are currently putting a system in place to bring back the 72 asymptomatic employees per the new guidance [from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," said SRS spokesperson Amy Boyette.
Decommissioning work at Southern California Edison's San Onofre nuclear power plant has run into some challenges that are unique to the specific site, including local guidelines designed to protect 10 federally endangered or threatened species. Workers have already had to relocate a rail spur site to avoid disturbing the California gnatcatcher's natural habitat.
The Defense Nuclear Safety Facilities Board is using its newly gained congressional authorization to include Energy Department public employees and contractors at defense nuclear facilities during their inspections. Congress' modifications to the Atomic Energy Act overturned a May 2018 directive that had put certain Energy Department personnel and facilities off-limits to board inspectors.
Sweden's planned nuclear waste research and development program to establish a permanent waste repository at Forsmark has been approved by SSM, the country's nuclear regulator. Nuclear Fuel Management, which is owned by Sweden's nuclear operators, hopes to start construction on the project "in the early 2020s."
Russia's state-owned Rosatom technicians from its Beloyarsk nuclear power plant near Moscow have been put into isolation at a local clinic after four workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Rosatom has instituted companywide health checks at all of its nuclear facilities in Russia.
Uganda plans to establish a specialized institute to train the estimated 3,926 personnel needed to develop the country's first nuclear power plant, according to a technical paper from the energy and education ministries, the Atomic Energy Council and National Curriculum Development Center. Russia and China are helping Uganda develop its nuclear technology sector and are expected to be involved in establishing the nuclear energy training institute.
Nuclear power projects around the world, including construction and maintenance at nuclear power plants, uranium mining operations and waste disposal projects, have slowed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Companies are implementing health checks, allowing some employees to work from home and some operators are reducing power output to the grid due to reduced demand.
Nuclear power plant operators may apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for temporary exemptions from regulations that limit the hours workers can remain on the job, as plant operators cut their staffs in order to control the coronavirus outbreak. The NRC will also issue guidance on what labor and time-intensive tasks qualify for the waiver.
Decommissioning work at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts is continuing, unimpeded by the coronavirus outbreak and related social distancing guidelines. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also scaled back physical visits to the site, though the NRC continues to perform inspections remotely.
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