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UCS Comments on the NRC Near-Term Task Force Safety Recommendations

90-day report is on the right track, but needs to go further, say our experts

The recommendations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Fukushima 90-day task force are "a solid starting point for improving U.S. nuclear power safety," and should be implemented expeditiously by the NRC, according to comments released by the Union of Concerned Scientists on August 1, 2011.

UCS experts caution, however, that the recommendations are too narrow in scope to address current nuclear power safety issues in a comprehensive way. They also express concern that the NRC may move too slowly on putting the recommendations into effect.

The task force, formed in response to the March 2011 accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, made recommendations on the following safety issues:

  • Protection against severe accidents. UCS praises the task force's recommendation to extend the scope of regulations to include the prevention and mitigation of severe accidents, but cautioned that "the devil is in the details."
  • Earthquakes and flooding. The task force recommends that plants upgrade their protection against seismic and flooding hazards in light of current information, and then confirm each decade that their assumptions are still aligned with current science. UCS endorses this recommendation as "a prudent step," and suggested that it be broadened to include other types of hazards. UCS also recommended that a formal review of this kind be incorporated into the relicensing process.
  • Station blackout. UCS supports the task force's recommendation that plants be required to strengthen their capability to mitigate extended station blackouts such as the one that occurred at Fukushima.
  • Spent fuel. UCS points out two problems with the task force's recommendations on improving spent fuel storage: first, it does not account adequately for potential problems in boiling water reactors (BWRs) due to the location of BWR spent fuel pools in the same building as the reactor vessel; second, it does not address the crucial need to move spent fuel to dry cask storage as soon as it is cool enough.
  • Emergency preparedness. The task force makes several "common-sense" recommendations regarding on-site emergency preparedness, but does not go far enough in its recommendations for off-site plans for severe accidents. The NRC should require plant owners to plan for emergency response in a zone wider than the current 10-mile radius.
  • New reactors. The task force did not adequately address the need to integrate new safety recommendations into the licensing process for new reactors.
  • Other issues. Finally, the UCS comments call on the NRC's longer-term review to include safety issues that were not addressed in the task force's recommendations.
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