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March 22, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Chairman Gregory Jaczko has announced that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a 90-day study on the significance of Fukushima for American reactors with updates at 30 and 60 days.

The announcement came yesterday as top NRC officials said the situation in Japan did not warrant any immediate changes at American nuclear plants. “Every single day, we assess whether or not there is some additional regulatory action that needs to be taken immediately in order to address the information we have to date,” R. William Borchardt, executive director for operations, told the full commission in a televised hearing. Borchardt said that every day NRC inspectors double-check emergency equipment at each reactor “to make sure they haven’t fallen into disuse because they haven’t been used.”

Attention has already focused around the ventilation pipes, which have been hardened in U.S. reactors but may not have been similarly upgraded in Japan. If the pipes at Fukushima remain as simple ductwork, they could have been overpressurized when workers vented the steam, which led to several hydrogen explosions.

Dramatizing how serious the NRC’s responsibilities will be, another division of the agency issued a 20-year license renewal for Vermont Yankee even as the commission was holding hearings. Vermont Yankee is a twin of several of the Fukushima reactors. Commissioners said there would be further review of the relicensing as details of the Japanese accident come to light.

Overall, the commissioners expressed confidence in their ability to continue regulating nuclear development.  “Some may characterize that our faith in this technology is shaken,” said Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki. “But nuclear safety is not and cannot be a matter of faith. It must be a matter of fact.”

Read more about it at the New York Times


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