National Press Club

Nuke regulator to address quickly changes prompted by Japan disaster

July 18, 2011 | By Ken Dalecki |

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told a National Press Club luncheon audience July 18 that his agency should act within 90 days on regulatory changes recommended in response to Japan's nuclear power disaster.

Although urging quick action, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko also insisted that he sees no immediate risks to the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States.

A six-member task force appointed by the regulator after the crisis in Fukushima, Japan, caused by an earthquake and tsunami proposed a dozen changes last week designed to improve what it sees as a patchwork of nuclear energy rules adopted over many years.

The task force recommendations include requiring additional equipment at nuclear plants to ensure that they have supplemental power to operate safety equipment in case of multiple nuclear reactor failures.

Jaczko said that even if the NRC acts quickly, it will take years to finalize new rules and to have them implemented by the power industry. He said it would take until 2016 at the earliest to make all of the proposed changes and noted that it has taken 10 years to change security procedures recommended after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In answer to questions from the audience, Jaczko said nuclear waste can continue to be safely stored at plant sites for 60 years or more in light of failed attempts to open a permanent repository for radioactive waste.

Jaczko declined to speculate about the future of nuclear power in the United States or anywhere else.

The United States has 104 operating nuclear plants and only two applications -- in South Carolina and Georgia -- for new plants advanced enough to prompt pre-construction site preparation.