Regulators Deem U.S. Reactors Safe | June 27, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 26 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 26 | p. 14 | News of The Week
Issue Date: June 27, 2011

Regulators Deem U.S. Reactors Safe

Nuclear Power: Emergency preparedness, however, should be improved
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Homeland Security
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: nuclear power
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An NRC review of nuclear power plants in the U.S., such as Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, finds them to be safe but says more work is needed on preparedness plans.
Credit: Shutterstock
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An NRC review of nuclear power plants in the U.S., such as Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, finds them to be safe but says more work is needed on preparedness plans.
Credit: Shutterstock

U.S. nuclear power plants are operating safely, but changes are needed to make sure the facilities are better prepared to deal with natural disasters that simultaneously affect multiple reactors, federal regulators testified at a June 16 Senate hearing.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko told the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee that the likelihood of a Fukushima Daiichi-type event occurring in the U.S. is “very, very small.” But, he said, nuclear power regulators are already learning some lessons from the Japanese nuclear crisis.

At present, emergency plans for most U.S. nuclear plants envision a single incident endangering one reactor. But at Fukushima, the massive tsunami following a 9.0-magnitude earthquake damaged all four operating reactors.

“Clearly, Fukushima Daiichi showed us that we have to consider the possibility of multiple units at a single site, perhaps multiple spent-fuel pools, being affected at the same time,” Jaczko said.

An NRC task force is in the middle of a 90-day review of U.S. nuclear reactor safety, searching for lessons from the Fukushima incident that can be quickly applied. The 90-day study, to be released on July 19, will be followed by a more in-depth analysis that could lead to far-reaching changes at U.S. nuclear power plants.

“Since Japan’s nuclear disaster began unfolding, Americans have asked, with a good deal of trepidation: Could it happen here? Nothing can be taken for granted where nuclear power is concerned,” said committee member Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “Japan, a world leader in technology, believed the Fukushima plant was strong enough to withstand a worst-case scenario. And now we know it was not.”

NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis said the nuclear incident in Japan is a “lesson in humility” for regulators. “I believe that, as a community of safety analysts, we were pretty confident that there would be no new surprises,” Apostolakis said. “Fukushima has challenged that belief.”

Last month, NRC said its initial inspections had found problems with equipment, training, and procedures at some nuclear facilities, but none of them posed a significant safety risk (C&EN, May 23, page 19).

 
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