published Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Report calls for nuclear safety plan overhaul

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    This is the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant near Soddy-Daisy. Staff File Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis has prompted a call for “redefining” U.S. nuclear safety, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force report released Wednesday.

The report examines lessons learned from Japan’s nuclear disaster on heels of an earthquake and tsunami in March, which led to explosions, meltdowns in three nuclear reactors and the release of radioactive material into the air. The report recommends changes to “defense-in-depth” measures at nuclear plants to prepare for events such as earthquakes, flooding and tornadoes, which often come stacked together.

The report also states the current “patchwork of regulatory requirement” developed “piece-by-piece over the decades” should be replaced with a “logical, systematic and coherent regulatory framework” to bolster reactor safety across the nation.

The report and its 12 recommendations got mixed reviews from the nuclear industry and from nuclear watchdog groups.

Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Ray Golden said the NRC task force put together a comprehensive report but with little input from the nuclear industry.

Golden said TVA in March also organized a task force to examine the Japan events and subsequent meltdowns with an eye toward weaknesses in its Sequoyah, Watts Bar and Browns Ferry nuclear plants.

“[The NRC task force] report identified a number of issues, and many were identical to what TVA and the industry already have identified,” he said. “Nothing in the recommendations looks difficult to accomplish.”

TVA already has spent $15 million to $20 million this year to address some of the recommendations, including purchasing additional backup batteries and satellite telephone communication at the plants.

David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project, said the NRC task force suggestions don’t go far enough.

“Fukushima should shake the Nuclear Regulatory Commission out of its complacency,” Lochbaum said.

He noted that the NRC manages to decide 93 percent of new industry license-related requests within a year, but attempts to enforce its own rules can drag on for years.

The Union for Concerned Scientists on Wednesday unveiled its own 24 recommendations.

The NRC task force report is expected to be discussed at NRC’s commission meeting Tuesday, and a public hearing about the recommendations is scheduled in August.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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