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Call For Stringent Nuclear Accident Response Planning

by Jeff Johnson
June 4, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 23

Credit: Shutterstock
A photo of a nuclear reactor cooling tower.
Credit: Shutterstock

If U.S. nuclear power plant operators use more rigorous analytical methods, they could be better prepared to respond to natural hazards, says a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the research arm of Congress. GAO’s examination was driven by fears that the U.S. nuclear industry is unprepared for natural hazards. This fear was prompted by the Japanese industry­­’s response when an earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant last year, causing a meltdown of three nuclear reactors. The report urges the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to consider requiring nuclear power plant operators to use a detailed and systematic disaster preparation analysis method, the so-called probabilistic risk assessment, to prepare for responding to natural hazards and potential disasters. The assessment is a systematic risk- and performance-based method that NRC has recommended since 1991 but not required, GAO notes. Most reactor licensees use a less rigorous method. GAO also polled several nuclear risk experts and found that most recommended the tougher assessment method. NRC says it agrees in part with GAO’s recommendation and will consider requiring the probabilistic risk assessment along with other related initiatives currently under consideration in light of the Japanese disaster.


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