Bloomberg News

NRC Should Make Cooling-Pool Safety a Priority, Staff Says

October 05, 2011

(Updates with comment from NRC’s Borchardt in third paragraph.)

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should require reactor owners to have sufficient equipment to keep cooling pools that store nuclear waste safe during disasters, the agency staff told commissioners.

The agency should consider the requirement “without delay,” R.W. Borchardt, NRC executive director for operations, said in an Oct. 3 report released today by the commission.

It’s among eight recommendations from an agency task force that have “the greatest potential for safety improvement in the near term,” he said. The staff’s selections for top priorities include proposals to re-evaluate earthquake and flooding hazards, and to impose rules that help nuclear plants deal with on-site blackouts.

The NRC is weighing regulations to improve safety at 104 U.S. commercial reactors following meltdowns and radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant caused by a March earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The task force issued its suggestions in July.

The commission plans a public meeting Oct. 11 to discuss the report.

All of the task-force recommendations “make sense” and should be acted on within five years, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said today during a meeting with reporters in Washington.

Sept. 9 Memo

Improved cooling-pool equipment wasn’t listed as a concern warranting immediate NRC action in a Sept. 9 staff memo. Agency staff made it a priority after determining that resources exist to improve monitoring instruments, which aren’t often designed “to remain functional under accident conditions,” according to the report released today.

The staff also recommended expanding the group of reactors that should be required to have “hardened” vents to release pressure and avoid a meltdown. The Sept. 9 memo called for the added protection at some reactor containment structures designed during the 1950s and 1960s, similar to the General Electric Co.- designed model that failed at Fukushima.

The agency also should require the vents on a generation of GE-designed containments that were installed in the early 1970s, according to the staff report.

Reactor owners are “generally aligned with” the staff’s priorities for regulatory action, Mitchell Singer, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, said in an e-mail.

“The industry supports the addition of back-up monitoring for water temperature and level” in cooling pools, Singer said. A “detailed evaluation” of some older reactors is needed before determining whether they need hardened vents, he said.

--Editors: Judy Pasternak, Steve Geimann

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Geimann at sgeimann@bloomberg.net


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