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Senate Committee Considers Nuclear Plant Safety

Federal regulators testify on lessons learned from Japan meltdown

Washington, DC
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard this morning from members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about the lessons they took away from the March 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima reactor in Japan.

A task force made up of NRC staff reported earlier this month on how the U.S. nuclear power industry should react to prevent a similar incident here.

In a speech around the report's release, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said that while the NRC believes there is "no imminent threat (of an incident)...no one believes that what happened in Japan would be acceptable in this country."

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said the report  "includes important steps that would improve safety at U.S. nuclear facilities...(but) more needs to be done to fully address safety concerns."

Committee Ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) expressed doubt about the recommendations, saying that the NRC had "suddenly recommended sweeping regulatory changes in this report apparently without an adequate technical or regulatory basis to justify the modifications."

The report says that U.S. nuclear facilities are generally safe, but recommended rules changes to increase "the level of protection that is regarded as adequate”  in case there is a series of natural disasters or other events like the ones that caused the meltdown in Japan.  The task force found the current system to be  "a patchwork of regulatory requirements."

The task force made twelve safety recommendations, including:

  • Requiring plants to assess the potential for earthquakes and floods and act on any new information
  • Ensuring reactors can operate with no electric power for at least 8 hours
  • Installing earthquake-ready equipment
  • Requiring enhanced emergency plans be in place for natural disasters
  • Modifying the design of certain reactor types

Chairman Jaczko said that he would like the NRC to decide within 90 days how to proceed with the task force recommendations and that the nuclear industry would have five years to implement any new regulations that result from this process.

Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 5:19pm (ET)

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