U.S. Nuclear Power After Fukushima (2011)

Common sense recommendations for safety and security

The recent events in Japan remind us that while the likelihood of a nuclear power plant accident is low, its potential consequences are grave. And an accident like Fukushima could happen here. An equipment malfunction, fire, human error, natural disaster or terrorist attack could—separately or in combination—lead to a nuclear crisis.

The U.S. will continue to obtain a significant portion of its electricity from nuclear power for many years to come, regardless of how rapidly energy efficiency measures and other sources of electricity are deployed.

Given this reality, the United States must take concrete steps now to address serious shortcomings in nuclear plant safety and security that have been evident for years. No technology can be made perfectly safe, but the United States can and must do more to guard against accidents as well as the threat of terrorist attacks on reactors and spent fuel pools.

The report outlines and explains 23 specific recommendations, listed below.

  = Key recommendation that the NRC should make a top priority.

Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Severe Accidents

Extend the scope of regulations to include the prevention and mitigation of severe accidents.

Require reactor owners to develop and test emergency procedures for situations when no AC or DC power is available for an extended period.

Modify emergency planning requirements to ensure that everyone at significant risk from a severe accident--not just the people within the arbitrary 10-mile planning zone--is protected.

Improving the Safety and Security of Spent Fuel

The NRC should require plant owners to move spent fuel at reactor sites from storage pools to dry casks when it has cooled enough to do so.

The NRC should require reactor owners to improve the security of existing dry cask storage facilities.

The NRC should require plant owners to significantly improve emergency procedures and operator training for spent fuel pool accidents

Making Existing Reactors Safer

The NRC should enforce its fire protection regulations and compel the owners of more than three dozen reactors to comply with regulations they currently violate.

The NRC should establish timeliness goals for resolving safety issues while continuing to meet its timeliness goals for business-related requests from reactor owners.

The NRC should treat generic and unique safety issues alike. Until a generic issue is resolved, the NRC should account for it as a potential risk factor in its safety analyses and decisionmaking related to all affected reactors.

The NRC should require plant owners to use multiple inspection techniques to ensure detection of any degradation in aging, high-risk equipment.

The NRC should require plant owners to periodically inspect equipment outside the scope of normal inspections, both to determine whether that scope is appropriate and to detect problems before safety margins are compromised.

The NRC should revise its regulations for the licensing of "high burn-up" fuel to ensure public safety, and restrict how this fuel is used until the revisions are complete.

The U.S. government should prohibit the use of plutonium-bearing mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in reactors, and end the program to produce MOX fuel from excess weapons plutonium.

Ensuring the Continued Safety of Reactors with Renewed Licenses

Before granting a license renewal, the NRC should review all differences between current regulations and any past decisions specific to the aging reactor, to confirm that these differences will not compromise public safety going forward.

Making Existing Reactors More Secure against Terrorist Attacks

The NRC should revise its assumptions about terrorists' capabilities to ensure nuclear plants are adequately protected against credible threats, and these assumptions should be reviewed by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The NRC should modify the way it judges force-on-force security exercises by assessing a plant's "margin to failure," rather than whether the plant merely passes or fails.

The U.S. government should establish a program for licensing private security guards that would require successful completion of a federally supervised training course and periodic recertification.

Making New Reactors More Secure against Terrrorist Attacks

The NRC should require new reactor designs to be safer than existing reactors.

The NRC should require new reactor designs to be more secure against land- and water-based terrorist attacks.

Improving the NRC's Cost-Benefit and Risk-Informed Analyses

The NRC should increase the value it assigns to a human life in its cost-benefit analyses so the value is consistent with other government agencies.

The NRC should require plant owners to calculate the risk of fuel damage in spent fuel pools as well as reactor cores in all safety analyses.

The NRC should not make decisions about reactor safety using probabilistic risk assessments (PRAs) until it has corrected its flawed application of this tool.

Ensuring Public Participation

The NRC should fully restore the public's right to obtain information and question witnesses in hearings about changes to existing power plant licenses and applications for new licenses.