UPDATE 3-US report urges overhaul of nuclear rules

Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:46pm EDT

Related Topics

 * Total of 34 recommendations made in 82-page report
 * Looked at how to improve US safety after Fukushima
 * Recommends tougher approach to emergency plans
 * No imminent risk seen from current system-report
 * "It's a laundry list"-analyst
 (Adds comments and details throughout)
 By Roberta Rampton and Eileen O'Grady
 WASHINGTON/HOUSTON, July 12 (Reuters) - A key task force
formed after the Fukushima disaster recommended the U.S.
nuclear regulator take a new, tougher approach to safety, which
could force plants to plan for catastrophes far beyond what
they were originally designed to withstand.
 In the most far-reaching review of U.S. nuclear safety
since the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago, the report suggests a
philosophical shift is needed to unify a patchwork of formal
rules and industry guidelines, ensuring all are overseen by the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
 Among the 34 recommendations, the task force urged tougher
standards for back-up power supplies, back-up water supplies
for pools holding plant waste, and improvements in reactors
that share the same design as Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant.
 The report is the U.S. government's most definitive
response yet to the earthquakes and floods that caused a
partial meltdown at Fukushima. America's response could set a
template for other nations that look to the world's biggest
nuclear power generator to set the standard for safety.
 If adopted, the report could lead to cost increases for
operators of the nation's fleet of 104 reactors, such as Exelon
(EXC.N), Entergy (ETR.N), and PG&E (PCG.N). The industry is
already grappling with the competitive threat from cheap and
abundant supplies of natural gas.
 It's hard to say how much the ideas could cost the
industry, said Christine Tezak, an energy policy analyst at
Robert W. Baird & Co, noting much will depend on details of
decisions still to be made by the NRC.
 "It's a laundry list. Whether this adds up to a cooling
tower and puts you out of business, it's too early to tell,"
Tezak said.
 The five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission will need to
decide whether the regulatory shift is warranted. The task
force did not find any immediate safety issues.
 "The current regulatory approach and more importantly the
resultant plant capabilities allowed the task force to conclude
that a sequence of events like that in Fukushima is unlikely to
occur in the United States," according to the report obtained
by Reuters Tuesday evening.
 The report, which the NRC will officially release on
Wednesday, is likely to disappoint nuclear critics who had
called for the U.S. regulator to pause on renewing licenses for
aging plants, and making decisions on new reactors. The task
force did not go that far.
 "Continued operation and continued licensing activities do
not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety," the
report said.
  FACTBOX-What's in the task force report?  [ID:nN1E76B25S]
  ANALYSIS-After Fukushima, slow change     [ID:nN1E76A169]
  ANALYSIS-NY, Vermont eye shutdowns        [ID:nN1E75T0D0]
  INSIDER-Fukushima won't derail nuclear    [ID:nRTV235951]
  ANALYSIS-No easy fix for US nuclear waste [ID:nN21100265]
  TAKE A LOOK-Japan's nuclear crisis            [ID:nNUCJP]
 The March 11 earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the large
Fukushima nuclear plant, and officials in Japan continue to
grapple with cleaning up radioactive waste from the world's
worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
 It could take years before officials fully understand what
happened there, prompting a senior lawmaker to label the task
force ideas as premature.
 "Why has the NRC suddenly recommended sweeping regulatory
changes in this report apparently without an adequate technical
or regulatory basis to justify these modifications?" said James
Inhofe, senior Republican on the Senate's Environment and
Public Works committee, which has oversight of the NRC.
 The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobby group, also
said more information was needed from Japan.
 "A 90-day review does not permit a complete picture of a
still-emerging situation," the group said in a statement.
 But Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat and long-time
industry critic, said the NRC should move ahead quickly.
 Markey said he was disappointed the report did not enlarge
emergency evacuation zones around nuclear power plants, nor
recommend that spent fuel be moved into dry casks from pools,
where most of the radioactive waste is currently stored.
 The task force praised new reactors that include passive
features, saying the new designs would be in line with many of
its recommendations. It urged the NRC to complete its review
"without delay" of Toshiba Corp's (6502.T) Westinghouse AP1000
reactor and GE-Hitachi's (6501.T) Economic Simplified Boiling
Water Reactor.
 The AP1000 is the reactor design of choice for the nation's
first new nuclear plants in 30 years -- Southern Co (SO.N) in
Georgia and SCANA Corp (SCG.N) in South Carolina.
 The NRC will next embark on a six-month broader review, and
is expected to invite industry and the public to participate.
 Commissioners are slated to give their first public
statements on the task force recommendations at a public
hearing on July 19, while Chairman Gregory Jaczko -- who is
pushing for an expedited response -- will speak publicly at a
National Press Club event a day earlier.
 (Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, Mari Saito, Tom
Doggett, Malathi Nayak and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa

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