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August 1, 2011 

NRC Should Move Swiftly to Implement Task Force Recommendations, but Agency Needs to Do More to Protect Public

If the NRC Needs More Data before Acting on Recommendations, Institute a Moratorium on Relicensing Old Reactors and Licensing New Ones

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today issued a critique of key recommendations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) near-term task force in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident earlier this year. The organization urged the NRC to begin implementing many of the task force’s recommendations within the next few months and fully implement them within a period of several years, as opposed to the decade it took to implement the safety and security recommendations made after the terrorist attacks in September 2001.

“If the NRC balks at implementing new safeguards in a reasonable time frame on the grounds that it doesn’t have enough information about what happened in Japan, then the agency also doesn’t have enough information to relicense operating reactors or license new ones,” said Lisbeth Gronlund, a physicist and co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program. “If the NRC commissioners need more time to sort out the lessons of Fukushima, there should be a moratorium.”

On July 13, UCS issued its own set of recommendations to the NRC, taking a much broader approach. Some of the organization’s 23 proposals address problems that were brought to light during the Fukushima accident, but others focus on problems that have been evident for decades. For example, more than 40 reactors still do not comply with fire protection regulations originally instituted in 1980 and amended in 2004.


UCS released its response to the NRC task force recommendations a day before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the NRC task force report. The hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. EDT in room 406 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, will feature testimony by the five NRC commissioners.


In a related development, UCS recently obtained an unpublished October 2010 NRC draft analysis of a hypothetical Fukushima-like disaster at a Pennsylvania nuclear plant. It found that such an accident would on average cause nearly 1,000 cancer deaths within 50 miles of the plant, even if nearby residents were quickly evacuated. Depending on the weather conditions at the time of the accident, the number of deaths could be as many as 10,000.

The analysis, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains some of the results of the NRC’s long-delayed State of the Art Reactor Consequence Analyses (SOARCA) project. The agency established SOARCA in 2005 to provide “updated and more realistic analyses of severe reactor accidents.”

Specifically, the draft document evaluates the consequences of an earthquake-induced loss of on-site and back-up power at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant, located 65 miles west of Philadelphia and 45 miles down the Susquehanna River from Three Mile Island. That is exactly what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan earlier this year, and the General Electric reactor designs at Peach Bottom and Fukushima are similar.

For more details, see a July 29 blog post by UCS physicist Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the UCS Global Security Program. UCS provided the draft analysis to the New York Times, which published a story on the SOARCA project on Saturday.


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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