Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommends 12 changes at domestic reactors to help prevent Fukushima repeat
Calling the Japan nuclear disaster “unacceptable,” an expert task force convened by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that nuclear power plants in the U.S. need better protections for rare, catastrophic events.
The series of recommendations, included in portions of a 90-page report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, will reset the level of protection at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl by making them better prepared for incidents that they were not initially designed to handle.
The panel will tell the commission that nuclear plant operators should be ordered to re-evaluate their earthquake and flood risk, add equipment to address simultaneous damage to multiple reactors and make sure electrical power and instruments are in place to monitor and cool spent fuel pools after a disaster.
In a news release issued late Tuesday, the NRC said that the 12 steps recommended in the report would “increase safety and redefine what level of protection to public health is regarded as adequate.” The full report will be released Wednesday, the NRC said.
The three-month investigation was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that cut off all electrical power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, resulting in core damage at multiple reactors, the loss of cooling at spent fuel pools, hydrogen explosions and radioactive releases into the environment.
The task force says that there is no imminent risk to public health and the environment from operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. But its members admit that the current patchwork of regulations is not given equal consideration or treatment by power plant operators or by the NRC, during its technical reviews and inspections.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the House natural resources panel, urged the commission to move quickly to adopt the recommendations of the task force, saying “America’s nuclear fleet remains vulnerable to a similar disaster.”
But Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate environment committee, said such sweeping changes were premature.
“Changes in our system may be necessary,” Inhofe said, but “a nuclear accident in Japan should not be automatically be viewed as an indictment of U.S. institutional structures and nuclear safety requirements.”
The massive Gulf oil spill last year led to a temporary moratorium on deep-water oil and gas exploration. However, U.S. nuclear regulators have said repeatedly post-Japan that the nation’s nuclear power plants are safe and should continue operating. Yet, as details about the Japan disaster began to emerge, so too did possible areas of improvement in emergency preparedness at the U.S. plants.
After the Japan incident, the NRC ordered inspections at all nuclear plants to see if they were complying with requirements put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to deal with extreme accidents. Inspectors found some minor problems, like wrong phone numbers for emergency personnel, a lack of training and buildings housing equipment that couldn’t withstand a natural disaster. But none of the issues would jeopardize safety, the NRC said.
The nuclear energy industry cited those results Tuesday as reason not to jump to conclusions.
“A 90-day review does not permit a complete picture of the still-emerging situation,” said Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “Therefore, we strongly recommend that the NRC seek additional information from Japan that would help establish the bases for actions.”
At a public meeting in June, the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, specifically questioned why the U.S. isn’t better prepared to deal with a prolonged station blackout, a situation in which both electrical power and back-up emergency power are lost. That is what happened in Japan after the tsunami wiped out diesel generators.
In the U.S., nuclear power plants are only required to cope for four to eight hours, the length of time batteries would last. After that, power is assumed to be restored.
The task force is recommending that each operating plant and new reactor be required to deal with a complete loss of electrical power for eight hours, and be able to provide cooling to the radioactive core and spent fuel pool for 72 hours.
They want earthquake and flood risks to be updated after 10 years, to account for the latest science. In addition, they want rules requiring more hands-on training and exercises for emergencies and plans to deal with disasters that strike multiple reactors at a plant. Most emergency guidelines now only deal with problems at a single reactor.
The report will be formally presented to the full commission next week. NRC staff will continue to examine the safety of nuclear power in the U.S. as part of a six-month investigation.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11