Initial review of US reactors to be completed in 90 days

Borchardt also said that the radiation released by the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station, which lost power in the aftermath of a massive earthquake and tsunami, will not reach the United States in dangerous levels. “There is no reason for concern in the United States regarding radioactive releases in Japan,” he said.

In a staff presentation to the five NRC commissioners, Borchardt said the commission would undertake an initial near-term, 90-day review of U.S. nuclear reactors as well as a longer-term review.

President Obama, who has maintained that nuclear power will play a key role in the country’s energy mix, ordered the review last week. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said Monday that the review must be “systematic and methodical.”

The “quick look,” 90-day review, which will include a 30-day interim report to the commission, will assess whether the information coming out of Japan necessitates immediate changes to U.S. nuclear oversight. It will also consider NRC inspection activities at U.S. plants, communication issues and whether any immediate regulatory changes are needed.

“The idea is to get a quick snapshot of the regulatory response and the condition of the U.S. fleet based on whatever information we have available,” Borchardt said.

The long-term review will result in a series of “lessons learned” from the Japanese nuclear reactor failures as well as recommendations for potential regulatory actions, Borchardt said.

The timeline for completion of the long-term review will be outlined as the full scale of the disaster in Japan becomes clear, Borchardt said.

The details of the NRC review come as power was restored to the stricken Fukushima Daiichi reactors Monday, according to Reuters. But setbacks in the effort to cool the overheating reactors continued.

The New York Times reported Monday that “crucial machinery” at one reactor needs to be repaired and that smoke was spotted streaming from another.

But Borchardt remained optimistic that Japanese workers would be able to get the reactors under control.

“In my view, the fact that offsite power is close to being available for use of plant equipment is perhaps the first optimistic sign we have that things could be turning around,” he said. “Optimistically, things appear to be on the verge of stabilizing.”

Borchardt defended NRC efforts to ensure that U.S. reactors are safe — he said all reactors must show they can withstand major natural disasters like an earthquake or tsunami. Reactors are subject to inspection and must be prepared for major emergencies including a complete loss of power.

Democrats in Congress have raised concerns about U.S. nuclear safety as images of the crisis in Japan continue to dominate the news. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), among others, have called for a full-scale review of the country’s reactors.

On Sunday, Jaczko would not rule out the possibility that the review could affect the ongoing effort to license the first new reactors in the United States in decades — an effort that Republicans and Obama support.

“We certainly want to get good information, and if that good information tells us that we need to make changes to our licensing process, then we will do that,” he said in an interview with C-SPAN.