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U.S. Nuclear Industry Prepares for Post-Fukushima Safety Regulations

Industry/Regulatory/Political

  • The Nuclear Energy Institute transmitted a letter last week to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reiterating its strategy for implementing upcoming regulatory changes in response to lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. By last Friday all five NRC commissioners had made public their unanimous votes to order nuclear energy utilities to establish a mitigation strategy for beyond-design-basis external events as well as to enhance Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor venting systems and used fuel pool instrumentation. The orders are expected to be issued by the end of the week.
  • An independent expert panel in Japan studying how the country’s authorities responded to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident reported last week that both the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had been ill-prepared to deal with the crisis. Based on interviews with about 300 Japanese and U.S. government officials and nuclear experts, the report said communication among government agencies and between the government and TEPCO was insufficient and lines of authority were confused. The report blamed the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for failing to adequately train its staff in safety procedures, TEPCO for not responding quickly enough to the emergency, and former Prime Minister Naoto Kan for directly interfering in plant operations. Koichi Kitazawa, former chief of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, led the study group, “Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation.”  TEPCO officials refused to be interviewed by the panel.
  • Richard Meserve, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a meeting of Japan’s parliamentary panel investigating the Fukushima Daiichi accident that experts at the site of a nuclear emergency should be given the responsibility and authority to respond to the situation. He told the panel it would be “unthinkable” in the United States for the president to intervene in technical decisions. Japan’s former prime minister, Naoto Kan, has been criticized for intervening in decisions on how to respond to the accident. Meserve said it is important for a nuclear regulator to remain free from political interference and independent of utilities and to maintain a high level of openness. He said a strong nuclear safety culture should be encouraged at nuclear energy facilities.
  • Japan’s Nuclear Regulations Agency, to be established April 1 as the successor to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, will be headed by a “non-bureaucrat,” said Goshi Hosono, nuclear power and environment minister. The new agency will report to the ministry of the environment instead of the ministry of economy, trade and industry.

Media Highlights

  • The Wall Street Journal reports on a press briefing last week by the Health Physics Society, which said that, based on radiological data collected in Japan, the health effects of the Fukushima accident should be minimal for both the public and workers.
  • Reuters, quoting a report from the Japanese newspaper Asahi, said the Japanese government is set to take a 51 percent share in Tokyo Electric Power Co. as a condition of providing the company a financial injection of $12.4 billion. The majority stake in voting rights would give the government the ability to name members of the board.
  • A majority of prefecture governors and town mayors within 18 miles of nuclear energy facilities that have been shut down for inspections are in favor of restarting them, provided certain conditions are met, according to a survey conducted by Japan’s Mainichi Daily News.

New Products

  • NEI’s white paper, “Making Safe Nuclear Energy Safer,” describes the U.S. nuclear energy industry’s response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident and safety enhancements that had been made before the accident occurred.
  • New items of interest on NEI’s Safety First website include a video on the industry’s commitment to maintaining a robust nuclear safety culture in the aftermath of Fukushima and an article on the continuing role of U.S. nuclear experts assisting in Japan’s recovery—and learning from the accident.

Upcoming Meetings

  • NEI Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo and Exelon Chief Operating Officer Chip Pardee will hold a press conference on the U.S. nuclear industry’s response to lessons learned from Fukushima Daiichi at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., March 6.
  • The American Nuclear Society will hold a March 8 press briefing on the release of their Fukushima report. The report is co-authored by former NRC Chairman Dale Klein and ANS President-Elect Michael Corradini. The event will be webcast.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency will convene an international experts’ meeting on reactor and spent fuel safety in light of the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Vienna, March 19-22.

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Activity ID: 1002943 Activity Name: NEI Remarketing Safety Activity Group Name: Remarketing Safety First