Nuclear agency chief seeks to accelerate post-Fukushima disaster safety reforms

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko hopes to speed up safety reforms planned after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant after acknowledging recently that the five-year schedule had slipped.

“That’s something that we really need to focus on and figure out if there aren’t ways we can accelerate that work and really get it all done within five years,” Jaczko said in an interview broadcast Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan.

{mosads}“Nobody wants to be dealing with the lessons learned from Fukushima in six years from now, seven years from now, in eight years from now, there will be other things that come up, other issues that need to be identified and dealt with, and if we are still working on the Fukushima things, it will make it all that much more challenging to deal with these other issues,” he told Platts Energy Week TV.

The NRC has consistently maintained that U.S. power plants are safe. But the regulators are also moving ahead with efforts to strengthen safety in the wake of last year’s earthquake and tsunami, which caused a disastrous loss of cooling and meltdowns at the Japanese plant.

“The bottom line is that we believe that a Fukushima-type accident is very unlikely in this country but there are some things that we need to do,” Jaczko told Platts.

Jaczko, in comments last week and in the new interview, said meeting the planned five-year timeframe to implement the changes is unlikely, but is hopeful that will change.

In particular, Jaczko said he wants to get planned seismic re-analyses of what plant designs can withstand completed on schedule.

“That is something right now that the staff, based on what we have heard from the industry, doesn’t believe can be done earlier than 2017, 2018, 2019, in that timeframe, which is a little bit longer than what I would like to see, so I think our job in the next couple of years is to figure out how we can accelerate some of that work, get the experts that are needed in order to do that, get them in place, and get the analyses done,” he told Platts.

The industry has warned the NRC that resource constraints may limit how quickly the seismic analyses can be completed, Bloomberg reported.

The NRC last week authorized staff to issue several formal safety orders to plant operators, the first steps toward implementing recommendations for enhanced safety developed by a task force convened after the Japanese disaster.

The orders require that operators better protect safety equipment and install new technology to monitor water levels of spent-fuel pools located at plants. A separate order requires that certain reactors improve venting systems “that help prevent or mitigate core damage in the event of a serious accident,” according to the commission.

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