US launches review of nuclear plant safety

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 21:42 EDT
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WASHINGTON – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday it was launching a two-pronged review of US nuclear power plant safety amid the crisis at a Japanese complex hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

The US regulator called for an agency task force to be set up to conduct “both short- and long-term analysis of the lessons that can be learned from the situation in Japan,” the NRC said in a statement.

“Our focus is always on ensuring the health and safety of the American people through our licensing and oversight of plants and radioactive materials in this country,” NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko said.

“Examining all the available information from Japan is essential to understanding the event’s implications for the United States.”

Tokyo has declared an exclusion zone with a radius of 20 kilometers (12 miles) around the northeastern Fukushima power station and evacuated tens of thousands of people, after it was crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Engineers hope to restart the cooling systems of all six reactors that were knocked out by the 14-meter (46-foot) tsunami, and they have already reconnected the wider facility to the national power grid.

But the crippled plant northeast of Tokyo has been leaking radiation and has suffered a series of explosions and fires since the country’s worst natural disaster in nearly a century.

US President Barack Obama last week ordered a “comprehensive review” of US nuclear safety and vowed to learn lessons from Japan’s nuclear crisis.

The NRC said the task force would provide updates on its work in 30, 60 and 90 days, and a full report with its recommendations would be published in six months.

“We will perform a systematic and methodical review to see if there are changes that should be made to our programs and regulations to ensure protection of public health and safety,” Jaczko said.

The review will include information from NRC inspectors who are posted at every US nuclear power plant, the regulator said.

“This work will help determine if any additional NRC responses, such as orders requiring immediate action by US plants, are called for,” said NRC executive director for operations Bill Borchardt.

Meanwhile, the NRC said its staff “reiterated their conclusions that the United States and its territories will avoid any harmful radiation levels as a result of the ongoing events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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