US nuclear plants safe, but improvements can be made: ANS report
Washington (Platts)--8Mar2012/402 pm EST/2102 GMT
US nuclear power plants are safe to operate, but improvements could be
made to emergency planning and the assessment of severe accident risks, the
American Nuclear Society, a professional organization of scientists and
engineers, said in a report issued Thursday.
A "risk-informed" approach, which accounts for costs and benefits, should
guide the consideration of proposed plant upgrades and regulatory reforms to
address the lessons of the Fukushima accident in Japan, the ANS Special
Committee on Fukushima said in its report.
Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein and Michael
Corradini, a member of NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, were
co-chairmen of the committee.
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"We have found no aspect of the Fukushima Daiichi accident to suggest
that the level of safety of nuclear energy facilities in the US is
unacceptable," ANS said in its report.
"The current level of oversight is sufficient to protect the health and
safety of the American public," the committee said. "We are in strong
agreement with the [NRC] on this point."
"The off-site health consequences" of the accident "may ultimately be
negligible. No one has died as a result of radioactive materials released by
Fukushima Daiichi, and no health consequences have been reported from health
monitoring of workers and the public to date," the report said.
More complete information on the accident will not be available for
years, but "we are already seeing false-science studies widely reported in
the media" that attribute significant human health effects to the Fukushima
accident, Klein said Thursday during a Washington press conference.
The ANS committee "felt an obligation to set the record straight" in the
report, Klein said.
The health impact of radioactive material released during the accident,
Klein said, was "probably too small to measure -- Fukushima was no Chernobyl."
The committee made a number of recommendations, including that the NRC
and US nuclear industry make more use of "risk-informed" methods to assess
the risk of low-probability, high-consequence events, such as Fukushima. Had
such methods been used more extensively in Japan before the accident, they
would likely have revealed that enormous tsunamis, such as the one that
engulfed Fukushima in March 2011, had occurred in the region within the past
thousand years, Klein said.
The committee did not suggest schedules for the implementation of its
recommendations. Reviews of proposed regulatory and other changes should be
"a long-term effort" with input from the industry, the public and other
stakeholders, Corradini said during the press conference.
"We don't want a rush to judgment" such as what occurred after the Three
Mile Island-2 accident in 1979, after which NRC required various plant
modifications that were "costly and had to be undone" later, Corradini said.
US nuclear power plants "are in good shape" to mitigate a severe
accident, particularly given enhanced capability provided by portable
pumps and other emergency equipment the NRC required the industry to acquire
after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington,
The committee said "the NRC should periodically reanalyze and
potentially redefine the design and licensing basis for severe natural events
(earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires) using the
latest, accepted, best-estimate methodologies with quantified uncertainties
and data available that are well vetted and have a strong consensus of
technical experts. All risks to [nuclear power plants] from severe natural
events should be periodically (e.g., every decade) reassessed using the same
methodologies and data. Based on the outcome of the assessment, the NRC may
mandate improvements based on cost-benefit analyses."
This recommendation diverges from NRC staff proposals that all five
commission members approved. The commission last month approved the issuance
of three orders to US nuclear power plant operators based on recommendations
of the agency's near-term Fukushima task force. The staff said, and
commissioners agreed, that the proposed orders should not be required to
undergo cost-benefit analyses under NRC's so-called backfit rule.
Klein said during the press conference that such analyses of proposed
post-Fukushima reforms are "appropriate" because utility ratepayers would
ultimately bear the cost of implementing reforms.
The committee said the NRC should "work together with other agencies and
industry to develop a more risk-informed approach to emergency planning,"
including possible reconsideration of how large an area might need to be
evacuated during a severe accident.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko recommended on the week after the Fukushima
accident started that US citizens evacuate from a 50-mile radius around the
plant, an evacuation zone much larger than the Japanese government was
recommending to its people.
The committee said in its report that Jaczko's recommendation was
"puzzling." During the press conference, Klein said he still "does not
understand what the technical basis for that recommendation was."
Klein noted that "evacuation plans have their own risks," such as
traffic accidents, that must be taken into account in emergency planning.
Corradini said evacuation plans must be "flexible," rather than "strictly"
determined by distance from a nuclear plant.
--Steven Dolley, firstname.lastname@example.org