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NEA Panelists Agree Fukushima Response Should Not Detract From Safe Operations

The following story originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.

A panel at Nuclear Energy Assembly on implementing lessons learned from the Fukushima accident agreed that the industry’s response to regulatory changes should be approached holistically.

Charles “Chip” Pardee, Exelon Generation’s chief operating officer, said that the industry is just beginning to implement the top-priority list of recommendations of the NRC’s Fukushima task force. Pursuing those improvements without losing focus on maintaining the safety of day-to-day reactor operations is “high on our list of concerns,” he said.

He compared the current changes to the industry’s response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, the post-9/11 requirements mostly affected the activities of plant security personnel and not operating crews. Even so, some of the present revisions—such as for re-evaluating seismic response—were “not uncontemplated” prior to the accident, he said.

William Borchardt, the NRC’s executive director for operations, agreed with Pardee that maintaining the safe operation of the nation’s 104 operating reactors must remain the agency’s first priority. “Once the new post-Fukushima requirements on industry begin to take effect, corrective actions based on any deficiencies identified will need to be integrated with ongoing operations,” he said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Lochbaum sounded a conciliatory note on filtered vents—one of the post-Fukushima topics under discussion between the NRC and industry. He urged the industry to minimize consequences of land contamination by reducing the source of gaseous effluents in a severe accident, but he said it should be left to industry to decide the best means—whether by direct external filtration of containment vents or by other approaches such as in-containment sprays or flooding.

Borchardt said the NRC staff is preparing a paper for the commission on the socioeconomic consequences of land contamination, including an analysis of the NRC’s current regulatory authority in the area.

Summarizing the implications for industry of the post-Fukushima regulatory changes, Borchardt and Pardee both agreed that the safety of current operations should remain the primary focus. They also agreed that maintaining communications and interaction with stakeholders to explain the coming changes will be vital to build and maintain public trust and confidence.

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