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Post-Fukushima U.S. Safety Rules Advance With NRC Majority Vote

NRC Moves Closer to Post-Fukushima Rules As Anniversary Loom
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rules would require that U.S. plant owners have sufficient equipment on site to handle blackouts and adequate instruments to monitor pools containing spent fuel during an emergency. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

A majority of the five-member U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to issue rules on reactor safety, moving the agency a step closer to enhancing safeguards in response to Japan’s 2011 disaster.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and member William Magwood approved issuing the rules. William Ostendorff and George Apostolakis favored the orders, in part, and asked for revisions before they take effect. Commissioner Kristine Svinicki didn’t disclose her vote on the rules, which would cover companies including Southern Co. and Exelon Corp.

“The rapidly approaching one-year anniversary of the tragic earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in Japan is a poignant reminder of the importance of our work for nuclear safety in the United States,” Jaczko said in his vote posted today on the agency’s website.

A 9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, causing explosions, radiation leaks and meltdowns. The NRC and the nuclear industry have been studying the disaster to bolster U.S. plant protection from floods, quakes and power failures that prevent the cooling of atomic waste.

The NRC’s rules would require that plant owners have sufficient equipment on site to handle blackouts and adequate instruments to monitor pools containing spent fuel during an emergency. The agency also wants operators with older, General Electric Co.-designed reactors, similar to those that failed in Japan, to have “hardened vents” to relieve gas pressure and prevent explosions.

Agency Review

The NRC had set March 9 for action on the orders, developed after an agency review of failures at the Fukushima plant, and any revisions to the rules could delay the schedule.

Ostendorff asked the staff for a revision showing the rules are necessary to ensure adequate public health and safety, and be implemented without delay.

Jaczko wants owners of the 104 U.S. operating reactors, such as Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Resources Inc., to comply with the rules by 2016.

The U.S. nuclear industry also has approved a plan to have back-up generators and pumps at reactor sites to provide protection against power failures.

The commissioners voted to approve a staff plan for implementing the orders. The NRC staff has proposed preparing the technical plans for the rules by August, giving reactor owners until February 2013 to draft their compliance plans and to take action no later than Dec. 31, 2016.

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