Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

Report Calls for Overhaul of Nuclear Safety Rules Report Calls for Overhaul of Nuclear Safety Rules

This ad will end in seconds
 
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation
 

 

Energy / ENERGY

Report Calls for Overhaul of Nuclear Safety Rules

(iStockphoto.com)

photo of Coral Davenport
July 13, 2011

The “patchwork” of safety rules governing U.S. nuclear power plants is in need of a comprehensive overhaul, according to a report commissioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and sent to the agency’s five commissioners on Tuesday.

The 90-page report, conducted in response to the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant this year, concludes that “a sequence of events like the Fukushima incident is unlikely to occur in the United States,” but that the disaster highlighted the need for a regulatory security framework for nuclear power plants; more safety procedures to protect U.S. plants from floods, fires, earthquakes, and blackouts; improved spent-fuel storage; and more.

The nuclear industry fears that the Fukushima disaster could lead to a freeze in the development of U.S. nuclear power plants, as did the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. The report notes that there was no similarly thorough regulatory review and overhaul after Three Mile Island, and that “there will likely be over 100 nuclear power plants operating throughout the United States for decades to come.” Nuclear power generates about 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

 

Nuclear-power advocates criticized the report, with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, saying in a statement that "a nuclear accident in Japan should not automatically be viewed as an indictment of U.S. institutional structures and nuclear safety requirements." While he acknowledged that some changes may be needed, Inhofe cautioned that “sweeping revisions are premature without first taking into account the full extent of the differences between the United States' and Japan's nuclear safety regulations.... As this report comes to light, I am concerned that it will become another weapon in the Obama Administration's attack on affordable energy, or an excuse to unleash a regulatory agenda that will only harm our economy."

The report of the nuclear “Near-Term Task Force” is intended to represent a first snapshot of the safety reforms needed throughout the U.S. nuclear industry. The task force was convened in March to conduct a methodical overview and review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s safety procedures with a specific focus on safety concerns raised by the Japanese disaster.

Overall, the report calls on the U.S. nuclear industry to strengthen and unify its disparate regulatory elements -- especially a roster of voluntary guidelines on how to manage severe accidents.

Several of the report’s 12 recommendations focused on improving the response to on-site emergencies like those that happened at the Fukushima plant. There, backup generators failed to kick in after an earthquake and tsunami knocked out power, causing dangerous overheating in pools of cooling water in which spent nuclear fuel is stored. The damaged spent fuel also caused water to drain, allowing the hot, radioactive rods to ignite. The new report recommends denying U.S. nuclear facilities operating licenses unless they can demonstrate the ability to deal with a complete loss of power for eight hours, using backup generators, and to be able to provide cooling to the radioactive core and spent fuel pool for 72 hours.

The report also recommends a thorough reform of how radioactive spent-fuel rods are stored on-site at U.S. power plants -- echoing calls by nuclear watchdog groups.

The meltdown at Fukushima was triggered by the ignition of tightly packed spent fuel rods, but the report notes that toxic spent fuel rods are far more densely and dangerously packed in U.S. plants. It notes that each of the four Fukushima pools contained 292 to 1,331 spent nuclear fuel rods -- while the storage capacity of U.S. spent-fuel pools ranges from less than 2,000 to nearly 5,000, usually filled up to three-quarters of capacity.

The report also calls for major reforms in how spent fuel is stored at U.S. nuclear reactors, which is likely to spur the long-running debate in the U.S. about the lack of a permanent storage site for nuclear waste.

The NRC is expected to hold a public hearing on the report next week, and to continue to commission further investigation into the implications for the U.S. industry of the Japanese disaster.

LIKE THIS STORY? Sign up for Energy Edge

Sign up for our daily newsletter and stay on top of energy coverage.

Sign up form for Energy Edge
Job Board
Search Jobs
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
Fire Sprinkler Inspector
American Society of Civil Engineers | Charlotte, NC
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Deputy Director of Transit Operations
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Jose, CA
Transportation Planner
American Society of Civil Engineers | Salinas, CA
Assistant Professor - Water Resources/Ecological Engineering
American Society of Civil Engineers | Auburn, AL
Product Manager - Chemical Development and Supply - Tulsa, OK
American Society of Civil Engineers | Tulsa, OK
Commissioning Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Chicago, IL
Assessment and Remediation Team Lead
American Society of Civil Engineers | Regina, SK
Business Development Manager
American Society of Civil Engineers
Sr. Controls Systems Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Grand Island, NE
Senior Project Manager- Transportation
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Antonio, TX
Materials Engineer 2
American Society of Civil Engineers | IL
Land Surveyor
American Society of Civil Engineers
Quality Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Attica, IN
 
Comments
comments powered by Disqus