UPDATE 1-US NRC to use safety steps learned from Fukushima
* NRC head Jaczko wants new safety rules within 5 years
* Station blackout rule making by April 2014
Oct 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will immediately begin implementing seven safety recommendations from an agency task force that developed them after studying Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, the NRC said on Thursday.
The seven recommendations are among 12 presented by the task force in July, the NRC said in a release on Thursday.
"My colleagues and I expect that within five years, and significantly sooner in some cases, the staff will have enhanced our already robust safety standards by carrying out these recommendations," NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in the statement.
Post-Fukushima upgrades and regulatory changes are expected to add costs for existing and new reactors so NRC action is being closely watched by Exelon , Entergy Corp and merger partners Duke Energy and Progress Energy .
If the Duke-Progress merger is completed, Duke will rank as the second-largest U.S. nuclear operator behind Exelon.
NRC staff reviewed the task force report and selected seven recommendations as most appropriate for immediate action, the NRC said.
The recommendations cover issues including the loss of all electrical power at a reactor, known as a "station blackout", reviews of seismic and flooding hazards, emergency equipment and plant staff training.
In March, an earthquake and tsunami left the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant without power. Operators were unable to cool the fuel in the reactors, resulting in fuel meltdowns and the release of radioactive material into the environment.
A spokesman for the industry trade group, Nuclear Energy Institute, said the NRC's "performance-based, flexible approach" to address varying conditions at different nuclear sites would ensure that implementation of Fukushima-related changes is effective and efficient.
"Both industry and the NRC should focus on those matters that have the greatest safety significance and benefit," said Steve Kerekes of NEI.
The commission said it set a goal of completing the rule making process for station blackouts by April 2014.
"The station blackout rule making is an achievable goal," Jaczko said. "Addressing station blackout is a high priority."
"It's a good first step," said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that advocates for nuclear safety. "The unanimous vote shows there is strong support on the commission."
However, Lyman said the UCS is concerned that changes made to emergency measures may be so general that they are ineffective.
"We encourage them to make sure they consider and think through a range of scenarios -- from beginning to end -- to make sure equipment and procedures put into place will be available and can be used," Lyman said.
Operators at Fukushima, had emergency plans, Lyman said, but aftershocks, explosions, debris and high radiation wound up "making it impossible to carry out the things they thought they would be able to do."
The NEI said the post-Fukushima changes should not prevent the NRC from work on other "high-priority" issues, including emergency preparedness requirements, seismic reviews and licensing activities for new and existing reactors.