Nuclear safety task force: Upgrades needed in U.S.
July 14, 2011
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “patchwork of regulatory requirements” developed “piece-by-piece over the decades” should be replaced with a “logical, systematic and coherent regulatory framework” to bolster nuclear safety in the U.S., according to a task force reviewing nuclear safety standards. [Environment News Service]
The task force, formed in the wake of Japan’s devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in March that resulted in a nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, recommended improving protections against earthquakes, power losses, and floods, among other concerns.
Additionally, owners should be required to have at least eight hours of backup power at reactors, provide emergency systems to spray water into pools holding spent fuel and install more reliable venting systems for reactors similar to those that failed in Japan.
“Continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety,” the task force said in its 92-page report.
The task force developed a set of 12 recommendations to increase safety and redefine what level of protection of public health is regarded as adequate. It also recommended additional study of some issues.
“We must ensure that the NRC forcefully implements the safety recommendations contained in this report,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee. “In addition to the recommendations in the report, more needs to be done to fully address safety concerns, such as moving spent fuel to dry cask storage.”
It was unclear what costs would be required to make the recommended safety improvements, but industry owners reacted with alarm to the task force’s report.
Of most concern, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a proposal to set aside a 1988 rule, known as the “cost protection rule, which has allowed the industry to avoid costly upgrades.
The rule was created after costs spiraled out of control for the industry because of reaction to the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania. Billions of dollars of added costs were imposed, which the industry said stalled its growth for more than two decades.
The industry has avoided major upgrades because of the rule, which is based on the calculation of whether human health benefits exceeded the costs of those upgrades. In the calculation, a human life was valued at about $3 million. Critics say the rule undervalues human lives, noting that other federal agencies place a value on a human life of between $5 million and $9 million for the purpose of cost-benefit calculations in other areas.
One key exception to the rule: The NRC could impose any requirement without the cost-benefit analysis if the change was needed for “adequate protection.” The task force said all of its recommendations should be imposed under the “adequate protection” clause, and that the commission should “redefine what level of protection of the public health is regarded as adequate.”
The task force released its findings Wednesday.