August 28, 2015

NRC Rejects Recommendation to Require Nuclear Plant Owners to Establish Plans to Address a Core-Melt Accident

Commissioners Ignore Lessons of Fukushima

Washington (August 28, 2015)—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has rejected the recommendation of the high-level task force it convened after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster to require nuclear plant owners to develop and maintain plans for coping with a core-melt accident. This decision will allow nuclear plants to continue to maintain those plans voluntarily and deny the agency the authority to review those plans or issue citations if they are deficient.

“Once again, the NRC is ignoring a key lesson of the Fukushima accident: Emergency plans are not worth the paper they are printed on unless they are rigorously developed, maintained and periodically exercised,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “When it comes to these critical safety measures, the NRC is allowing the industry to regulate itself.”

In a decision posted on the NRC’s ADAMS website on August 27, NRC commissioners instructed agency staff to remove a provision of a proposed draft rule aimed at protecting plants from Fukushima-type accidents that would require nuclear plants to establish Severe Accident Management Guidelines, or SAMGs. The staff’s proposal was in response to Recommendation 8 of the NRC’s post-Fukushima staff recommendations, which questioned the effectiveness of NRC’s current practice of allowing plant owners to develop and maintain the SAMGs on a voluntary basis.  

“The NRC has concluded that SAMGs are an essential part of the regulatory framework for the mitigation of the consequences of accidents,” the NRC staff wrote in its proposed draft rule. “Imposition of SAMGs requirements (versus a continuation of the voluntary initiative) would ensure that SAMGs are maintained as an effective guideline set through time.”

The nuclear industry—led by its premier trade organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)—opposed the proposal to require SAMGs, arguing that the proposal did not meet a strict cost-benefit standard. Rejecting its own staff’s recommendation, the commissioners voted in favor of the industry and against the public interest.

“The NRC’s process for cost-benefit analysis is defective and is being misused to make bad decisions,” Lyman said. “The American public is not going to be adequately protected unless this process is fixed by taking into account the true costs should a Fukushima-type accident take place in the United States.”

Yesterday’s decision also removes a provision from the proposed draft rule that would require new reactors to have additional design features to protect against Fukushima-type accidents. By eliminating this requirement, Lyman said, the NRC is relinquishing the opportunity to ensure that new reactors built in the United States will have stronger protection measures than the current reactor fleet.  

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