Nuclear industry: Safety review by regulator lacks ‘rigorous analysis’

A federal report recommending a suite of new safety measures at the country’s nuclear power plants lacks “rigorous analysis,” the nuclear industry says.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry’s national trade group, faulted the 90-day report released by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) task force last week for not including a detailed analysis of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

“The task force report lacks the rigorous analysis of issues that traditionally accompanies regulatory requirements proposed by the NRC,” the group said Friday in a letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. “Better information from Japan and more robust analysis is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of actions taken by the NRC and avoid unintended consequences at America’s nuclear energy facilities.”

NEI called for “continued assessment” of lessons learned from the Japanese disaster, and pressed the commission to consult with the nuclear industry in its attempt to review regulations at U.S. plants.

“[I]t is incumbent upon the commission to move forward both expeditiously and responsibly in identifying the lessons learned from the accident,” the letter states. “The competent, professional NRC staff should analyze the lessons learned and obtain broad stakeholder input in the most meaningful way.”

The task force was established by President Obama in the wake of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, when some in Congress and elsewhere raised concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear power plants to tsunamis or earthquakes.

Obama charged the task force with conducting an initial 90-day review, which was released last week. The task force will also deliver a longer-term report to the commission in six months.

The 90-day report calls on the commission to make wide-ranging improvements to NRC’s “existing patchwork of regulatory requirements and other safety initiatives,” while also stressing that there is no “imminent threat” at existing U.S. plants.

In the letter, NEI raises concerns about the language used in the report.

“The industry is concerned that the task force’s use of phrases such as ‘patchwork of regulatory requirements’ undermines the comprehensive body of regulatory requirements imposed by the NRC, the agency’s extensive inspection and oversight process, and the excellent safety performance at the industry’s 104 reactors,” the letter says.

Any new rules should be considered under the commission’s normal regulatory process, the letter says.

“After the necessary and appropriate analyses are conducted by the NRC staff, the commission should expect the staff to justify the value of any new or revised requirements consistent with NRC standard practice,” the letter says. “If any proposed new requirements are justified within the adequate protection standard, the commission should review these on a case-by-case basis.”

In a separate letter sent Monday, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee called on the commission to conduct a “full and deliberate” review of the task force’s recommendations based on NRC’s standard procedures.

“This review process includes thorough evaluation of the Task Force analyses and recommendations by NRC technical and senior staff. It would also include the involvement and perspective of industry and other stakeholders, and the [Advisory Committee on Nuclear Reactor Safeguards],” the letter says. “Such a process ensures the Commission has the full information necessary to evaluate the Task Force recommendations and to make effective policy decisions.”

Jaczko, in an interview with The Hill last week, called on the commission to make decisions on all of the task force’s recommendations within the next three months.