NRC to discuss Fukushima-inspired policy June 20

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will hold a public meeting June 20 to discuss NRC staff’s preliminary approach to implementing one of the broadest recommendations of the NRC’s near-term task force on the Fukushima disaster of March 2011.

The staff is exploring possible alternatives on how to revise the NRC’s approach to regulating U.S. nuclear power plants. The meeting will be held from 1:00 to 4:15 p.m. in Room 1-B-13/15 of the NRC’s Executive Boulevard Building at 6003 Executive Boulevard in Rockville, Md.

NRC staff will explain their current thinking regarding the task force’s Recommendation 1, which calls for “establishing a logical, systematic, and coherent regulatory framework for adequate protection that appropriately balances defense-in-depth and risk considerations.”

The report by the NRC senior staff task force was issued in July 2011, only four months after the massive earthquake and tsunami that subsequently resulted in a meltdown accident at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear station in coastal Japan. The report’s first recommendation essentially takes a look at enhancing nuclear plant safety for “beyond-design-basis” events. These are events that while very rare could have dire consequences when combined with certain other complicating factors.

For example, the tsunami tidal wave at Fukushima went over the power station’s protective seawalls and wiped out the emergency diesel generators. The commission has directed the staff to come up with a proposed regulatory framework on the issue by February 2013.

The public will have the opportunity to ask the NRC staff questions about the Recommendation 1 effort during the meeting, which will include a teleconference and webinar. Anyone planning to attend the meeting or who needs teleconference and webinar information should contact Richard Dudley at 301-415-1116, richard.dudley@nrc.gov.

In a June 7 news release, the NRC said it continues to evaluate and act on the lessons learned from Fukushima to ensure U.S. nuclear plants implement appropriate safety enhancements. Following direction from the agency’s five commissioners, the NRC’s activities are being led by a steering committee comprised of senior NRC management. The agency has also established the Japan Lessons-Learned Project Directorate, a group of more than 20 full-time employees focused exclusively on implementing task force recommendations and related activities.

The commission could soon look different, by the way. Commissioner Kristine Svinicki’s current term is set to expire June 30. She, like the proposed replacement for outgoing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, has been nominated by the White House but not yet confirmed by the Senate.

The embattled Jaczko recently announced his plans to leave the commission as soon as a replacement is confirmed by the Senate. President Obama promptly nominated Allison Macfarlane, an associate professor at George Mason University in Virginia and a member the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, to replace Jaczko.

In addition to taking several positions that annoyed industry (such as discontinuing the license process for the Yucca Mountain waste site and casting dissenting votes against the first new nuclear plants in over 30 years), Jaczko also alienated many NRC staff members and his fellow commissioners.

The four other commission members, including the other Democrats, took the unusual step of publicly criticizing Jaczko’s management of NRC during a congressional hearing in late 2011.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.