The U.S. nuclear industry is not prepared to prevent or handle the catastrophic damage a natural disaster could wreak on a nuclear power plant, according to a new report.
While the industry has made improvements in safety after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that created a melt-down at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, the National Academy of Sciences report warns more must be done.
The problem, according to the report, is U.S. safety regulations are focused on an operator's ability to respond to "specified failures" or "design-basis-events," like equipment failures, loss of power, or the inability to cool the reactor core.
That isn't enough, according to the National Academy of Sciences, which was commissioned to investigate the Fukushima incident.
All of the most devastating nuclear disasters from Japan's, to Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl were spurred by what is called "beyond-design-basis events," the report states.
"The overarching lesson learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident is that the nuclear plant licensees and their regulators must actively seek out and act on new information about hazards that have the potential to affect the safety of nuclear plants,” said Joseph Shepherd, who sat on the committee for the report.
The committee found that the current way the industry regulates safety at nuclear plants is based on very specific incidents that could occur, making it "clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents."
More "modern" risk assessment guidelines should be implemented, the report states.
It recommends that the nuclear industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission should improve operator training, including developing and implementing "ad hoc" responses to deal with abnormal emergencies.
The report also states industry and regulators could strengthen their defenses against large scale events like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and more by challenging how they design the structure of nuclear plants altogether.
Nuclear Energy Institute vice president, Tony Peitrangelo, said the report further verified steps U.S. industry began taking immediately after Japan's Fukushima accident.
“We are an industry of continuous learnings, and the past three years bear that out,” Pietrangelo said. “Simply put, we cannot let an accident such as Fukushima happen here.”