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October 5, 2011 

NRC Staff Asks Commission to Address Recommendations Made by Union of Concerned Scientists Months Ago

UCS called for moving spent fuel from pools to dry casks and expanding 10-mile emergency evacuation zones

WASHINGTON—The Union of Concerned Scientists offered two dozen recommendations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) a few months ago to strengthen the safety and security of U.S. nuclear reactors. Some of the science group’s suggestions were in response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan in March, but others addressed safety and security issues that have been festering for decades. The NRC’s own task force issued its post-Fukushima report to agency commissioners the same week, but given its narrow mandate to only look at the lessons of the Japanese accident, its recommendations were not as broad as those of UCS.

Today, NRC staff began to correct that oversight by proposing the commission consider a number of safety measures that were not included in the report the task force issued three months ago. Those measures include three that UCS recommended in its July report, “U.S. Nuclear Power after Fukushima: Common Sense Recommendations for Safety and Security.”

One of today’s NRC staff proposals addresses UCS’s call for strengthening the safety of spent nuclear fuel storage. Most of the spent fuel at U.S. nuclear plants is currently being stored in cooling pools that are significantly less protected than reactor cores. UCS had urged the NRC to require plant owners to move spent fuel from the pools to dry casks. Today, agency staff asked the commission to consider doing just that.

“We are gratified that the NRC is finally paying attention to the safety and security problems associated with storing radioactive spent fuel in overcrowded spent fuel pools,” said David Lochbaum, the director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project. “We urge the commission to require that spent fuel be moved into safer and more secure dry casks as soon as it is cool enough to do so.”

Another NRC staff proposal covers two issues UCS addressed concerning emergency preparedness in the event of a nuclear accident. “The NRC staff has recommended reexamining the technical basis for the current 10-mile emergency planning zone, which UCS has determined is an arbitrary and inadequate limit for many reactor locations,” said UCS Senior Scientist Edwin Lyman. “It also opened the issue of distributing  potassium iodide pills beyond the current 10-mile limit, which would help protect more local residents who would be at high risk for developing thyroid cancer in the event of a reactor accident.”

Lyman will provide more a more detailed assessment of the NRC staff proposal at an NRC meeting on Tuesday, October 11.


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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