U.S. plans more nuclear inspections after Japan

By Reuters
Posted March 21 at 11:53 a.m.

U.S. nuclear regulators are launching additional inspections and considering a 90-day review of the country’s 104 nuclear reactors in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis, officials said Monday.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission met on Monday to discuss how to respond to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled by a powerful March 11 earthquake.

The officials also acknowledged that progress was being made in in getting power to the plant that could help cool spent fuel and prevent further radiation from being released into the atmosphere.

“We are beginning very soon a 90-day effort that will evaluate all the currently available information from the Japanese event,” Bill Borchardt, the head of operations at the NRC, said at the meeting.

President Barack Obama last week requested a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear plants while maintaining his support for atomic energy, which supplies 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

The NRC will vote on the 90-day review and longer-term actions, perhaps later on Monday.

The agency is preparing enhanced inspections to verify the ability of U.S. plants to cope with severe accidents including loss of safety systems and power as well as flooding. That would not require a vote.

“We would evaluate whether or not some regulatory action … would be required in order to require the licensees to take some actions that they have not already done,” Borchardt said.

He added that the 90-day effort would evaluate the reactors’ ability to protect against natural disasters, station blackouts, severe accidents and spent fuel accidents. A report would be filed after 30 days to the commission and would be independent of industry efforts, Borchardt said.

Some environmentalists have complained that the NRC is too beholden to nuclear power companies.

“The idea is to just get a quick snapshot of the regulatory response and the condition of the U.S. fleet based on whatever information we have available,” Borchardt said.

Kristine Svinicki, an NRC commissioner, said efforts to ensure safety at U.S. plants must be based on science.

“Some may characterize that our faith in this technology is shaken, but nuclear safety has not been and cannot be a matter of faith. It is and must continue to be a matter of fact,” she said.

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