Watchdog group: Feds aren't doing enough to protect US nuclear plants

The NRC has divided the federal task force’s recommendations into three separate categories based on priority. Though NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has said he wants to move quickly on the recommendations, UCS lamented the fact that even those flagged by the commission as a top priority may not be implemented for five years.

UCS said the commission is not moving forward with enough urgency.

“The NRC does have a plan to reduce these vulnerabilities, but it must proceed more expeditiously to fully implement the lessons learned from Fukushima,” the report says. “Unless the NRC strengthens measures to prevent and mitigate [severe] accidents, it may be only a matter of time before a similar disaster happens here.”

But the report offers some praise for the commission’s response to the Fukushima disaster.

“To its credit, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) swung into action immediately after the accident and has been engaged ever since,” the group’s report says. “Many of its proposals to safeguard against such a calamity here are good in principle, but their effectiveness will depend on how well they are implemented, and how quickly.”

The group also took aim at the nuclear industry’s plan to protect U.S. plants from major disasters, which involves adding more safety equipment at the country’s 104 reactors. UCS said the industry is implementing its own plan before receiving input from the NRC.

“[W]ithout clearly defined ground rules for these efforts, it is hard to gauge how much additional protection they would actually provide,” the report says.

The nuclear industry touted its response to the disaster Tuesday.

“To maintain the highest levels of safety at every one of our facilities, we have worked proactively almost from the moment the tsunami struck Japan to capture and apply lessons learned,” Charles Pardee, the chair of industry’s Fukushima Response Steering Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry's trade group, took issue with UCS's criticism of its post-Fukushima plan.

"The claims being made with regard to the timeliness of action are without foundation. Based on our own analyses of Fukushima lessons and our numerous, ongoing interactions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which conducted its own Fukushima analyses, the industry has approved an initiative that commits every company operating nuclear power plants to order or enter into contract for a plant-specific list of additional safety equipment by March 31," NEI spokesman Steven Kerekes said in a statement.

"The equipment ranges from diesel-driven pumps and electric generators to ventilation fans, hoses, cables and satellite communications gear – all central to a diverse and flexible response strategy that will add another layer of protection at our facilities and address the key challenge encountered at Fukushima: the loss of power to maintain effective reactor cooling."

This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. on March 7.