US task force calls for sweeping new rules at nuclear power plants

U.S. nuclear power regulators should consider a slew of new requirements designed to ensure that the country’s 104 nuclear reactors can withstand a major disaster, a federal task force says in a new report.

The task force recommends that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission impose new rules aimed at ensuring that nuclear power plants can respond to major emergencies and prevent catastrophe in the event that a reactor loses power for an extended period of time. 

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The task force was established by President Obama in the wake of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, when some Democrats raised concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear power plants to tsunamis or earthquakes. Obama has consistently supported nuclear power as a key part of his broad plan to reduce the country's reliance on high-emissions sources of energy.

Obama charged the task force with conducting an initial 90-day review, which will be made public Wednesday. The task force will also deliver a longer-term report to the commission in six months.

The report, which has been sent to all five members of the NRC, includes 12 major recommendations. The task force recommends that the commission develop a “logical, systematic and coherent regulatory framework.” 

It calls on the commission to make wide-ranging improvements to the NRC’s “existing patchwork of regulatory requirements and other safety initiatives," according to NRC.

But the task force stresses that current NRC regulations pose no “imminent threat” to safety and notes that a disaster on the scale of the one that occurred in Japan in May following a massive earthquake and tsunami is unlikely in the United States.

The commission will meet next Tuesday to discuss the recommendations. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told The Hill in an interview Monday that he hopes his fellow commissioners can review and make decisions on the report’s recommendations within the next three months.

“I am proud of the diligence and dedication of the Task Force and look forward to working with my fellow commissioners to respond to these recommendations,” Jaczko said in a statement Tuesday night.

The report recommends that plants update plans to protect from major earthquakes or flooding at least every 10 years; strengthen their ability to deal with a complete loss of power over a long period of time; provide new ways of cooling spent fuel pools; and improve emergency response capabilities, among other things.