The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is jeopardizing reform by failing to heed its post-Fukushima task force’s top recommendation to clarify its “patchwork” of regulations for “beyond-design-basis” events that reactors are not intended to withstand, according to a report released March 6 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, U.S. Nuclear Power Safety One Year After Fukushima, also found that the nuclear industry is moving ahead with its own post-Fukushima initiative before the NRC has had time to determine whether it will adequately protect the public.
“The NRC has put the cart before the horse by not addressing its task force’s primary recommendation before doing anything else,” said Dave Lochbaum, director of the UCS Nuclear Safety Program. “By putting it off, the agency has potentially undermined the effectiveness of the other recommendations, which all hinge on this critical issue.”
For example, one of the other task force recommendations called on the NRC to require plant owners to implement measures enabling workers to better cope with a loss of off-site and on-site emergency backup electric power—a “station blackout.” The precedent comes from the NRC’s post-9/11 requirement that plant owners install portable diesel-fueled pumps and generators to protect their facilities from a prolonged station blackout caused by an aircraft attack. However, because the NRC defines an aircraft attack as a beyond-design-basis event, it did not require this equipment to meet high quality and reliability standards or be hardened to withstand other potential events, such as natural disasters. Indeed, post-Fukushima inspections have confirmed that at many plants some of the equipment would not survive earthquakes or floods.
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