Inservice inspection requirements for pressure retaining welds in the regenerative, letdown, and residual heat removal heat exchangers are prescribed in Section XI Articles IWB and IWC of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. Accordingly, volumetric and/or surface examinations are performed on heat exchanger shell, head, nozzle-to-head, and nozzle-to-shell welds. Inspection difficulties associated with the implementation of these Code-required examinations have forced operating nuclear power plants to seek relief from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The nature of these relief requests are generally concerned with metallurgical factors, geometry, accessibility, and radiation burden. Over 60% of licensee requests to the NRC identify significant radiation exposure burden as the principal reason for relief from the ASME Code examinations on regenerative heat exchangers. For the residual heat removal heat exchangers, 90% of the relief requests are associated with geometry and accessibility concerns. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was funded by the NRC Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research to review current practice with regard to volumetric and/or surface examinations of shell welds of letdown heat exchangers, regenerative heat exchangers, and residual (decay) heat removal heat exchangers. Design, operating, common preventative maintenance practices, and potential degradation mechanisms were reviewed. A detailed survey of domestic and international PWR-specific operating experience was performed to identify pressure boundary failures (or lack of failures) in each heat exchanger type and NSSS design. The service data survey was based on the PIPExp® database and covers PWR plants worldwide for the period 1970–2004. Finally a risk assessment of the current ASME Code inspection requirements for residual heat removal, letdown, and regenerative heat exchangers was performed. The results were then reviewed to discuss the examinations relative to plant safety and occupational radiation exposures.

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