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U.S. Nuclear Group Expects Four to Eight Reactors by 2020

Japan’s nuclear crisis won’t prevent construction of four to eight reactors in the U.S. by 2020, said Nuclear Energy Institute Chief Executive Officer Marvin Fertel.

The NEI, a trade group representing reactor operators, doesn’t expect the partial meltdown of a Japanese plant after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami to “have a major impact on new nuclear plant licensing,” Fertel said today at an industry conference in Washington.

The 104 U.S. commercial reactors are getting closer scrutiny by regulators and lawmakers after the disaster destroyed power lines and flooded emergency diesel generators at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, depriving its cooling systems of electricity. Fuel rods in four of the plant’s six reactor buildings overheated, causing fires, explosions and radiation leaks in the world’s worst nuclear incident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The crisis led Japan to reassess a plan to get 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants by 2030, Ichiro Fujisaki, the nation’s ambassador to the U.S., said at the conference. Japan’s government “will look anew" at this strategy, Fujisaki said.

‘‘That does not mean we will halt all the existing nuclear power,’’ he said. Japan gets about a quarter of its electricity from nuclear reactors, Fujisaki said.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission started a 90-day safety review of U.S. reactors in March after the disaster at Fukushima, about 135 miles (217 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

Better Preparation

U.S. plants may need to be better prepared for a ‘‘station blackout,’’ when cooling systems are cut off from the power grid and diesel generators fail, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said last month.

An industry review since the Japanese earthquake found some plants aren’t in compliance with standards for dealing with ‘‘large fires and explosions that could result from aircraft impact at a nuclear energy facility,’’ Fertel said today without specifying the reactors.

The inspection detected a few instances where equipment was stored in the wrong location and workers hadn’t received updated training, Fertel told reporters. The reactor owners are taking ‘‘corrective action’’ based on the inspections, which are separate from the NRC’s safety process, he said.

While the crisis in Japan has ‘‘added uncertainty’’ to the outlook for U.S. nuclear power, the five-member NRC is scheduled to vote on new reactor licenses this year, Fertel said.

Southern Co.’s plan for two reactors in Georgia may be approved by the end of the year, he said. Scana Corp.’s proposal to build two reactors in South Carolina may win NRC approval this year or early in 2012, he said.

The NEI’s construction forecast would require the NRC to rush the approval of new reactor designs, Tom Clements, a nuclear campaign coordinator in Columbia, South Carolina, for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said in an e-mail.

The NRC should ‘‘stop this process until it has time to consider the multitude of lessons about reactor design and operation which will eventually be learned from the Fukushima accident,” Clements said.

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