Task force calls for sweeping safety upgrades at U.S. reactors to reduce meltdown risk
For Immediate Release
Updated as of 12:52 p.m., July 13, 2011
90-day post-Fukushima review exposes dangers in existing U.S. reactor fleet, has implications for proposed new reactors such as Westinghouse’s AP1000
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A task force established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the wake of the post-tsunami nuclear disaster in Japan today released sweeping recommendations for regulatory changes needed for safer operation of existing nuclear reactor facilities and new reactor designs in the United States.
Tom Clements, a nuclear expert with Friends of the Earth, had the following response:
“These recommendations are far-reaching and have significant implications for regulations for existing reactors as well as reactor designs now under review. In short, the task force found that existing standards are inadequate to protect the public from catastrophic meltdowns and dangerous radiation releases.
“In order to protect the public from disasters like the one in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must act with due haste to strengthen safety standards for both operating and new reactor designs. The report’s correct focus on the impact of severe accidents and lack of coherent regulations in dealing with them necessitates a revision of current regulations as soon as possible.
“The development and implementation of new regulations will no doubt be costly for the nuclear industry and impact licensing of new reactors under consideration but it is imperative that the report be taken seriously and that its recommendations be acted on immediately. The report’s affirmation that a ‘defense-in-depth’ philosophy must guide the future regulatory structure should immediately impact the review of the Westinghouse AP1000 design, which lacks a robust secondary containment structure over the thin steel shell containing the reactor pressure vessel. The AP1000 design is currently being considered for use in several new reactors in the United States.
“Although the report does suggest important improvements, the recommendations are inadequate. Existing reactors, no matter the risk presented, are allowed to continue to operate under the lax current regulations. An in-depth review should have required immediate safety upgrades for existing reactors, especially the 23 Fukushima-style reactors operating across the United States.
“The report clearly points out problems that need to be immediately addressed, particularly with the GE Mark I and II reactor designs. After laying out the problems, the report then insists that current operating regulations are adequate, defying logic. It seems that politics has entered the picture and caused the task force to stop far short of making the needed recommendation that these plants be shut down until all the report’s recommendations are fully met.
“It is also important to note that the disaster in Japan is ongoing and lessons are still being learned. Therefore, while it is imperative that the NRC begin upgrading safety standards immediately, ongoing review of the lessons learned from Japan remains necessary and additional regulatory changes could well be required.”
Friends of the Earth fights to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.