* Staff seeks commission action in March
* Proposed orders follow task force recommendations
* Timeline calls for full compliance in 2016
Feb 22 The staff of the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission has proposed the first three rules to
address safety issues raised by Japan's Fukushima nuclear
disaster, changes the staff said could be implemented by the end
"Each of the orders is focused on enhancing defense in depth
at nuclear power plants through increased capabilities to
minimize the potential for core damage following a beyond design
basis external event," the NRC said in a memo detailing the
March 11 will mark the first anniversary of the world's
worst nuclear disaster in 25 years when an earthquake and
tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan's
northeast coast, knocking out power and resulting in a nuclear
meltdown and the release of radiation.
The first orders, subject to lengthy review and commission
approval, call for all U.S. nuclear operators to develop plans
to deal with extreme situations, such as earthquakes, floods and
other natural disasters that could affect multiple reactors
operating at a single site.
The NRC staff also proposed that all plants improve
instrumentation in the pools used to store spent nuclear fuel.
A third proposal would address containment "vent" structures
at plants similar in design to the crippled Daiichi nuclear
plants, according to the NRC memo from R.W. Borchardt, the NRC's
executive director of operations.
Modifications and operating changes based on lessons from
the Fukushima disaster are expected to add millions of dollars
in costs for nuclear operators, including Exelon Corp,
Entergy Corp, Southern Co and others.
Earlier this week, the Nuclear Energy Institute, a U.S.
nuclear industry trade group, said plant owners had committed to
purchase additional equipment to respond to emergencies that
interrupt off-site power to reactors.
The NRC staff said the industry initiative, called FLEX, may
satisfy the proposed order to mitigate certain safety
The staff recommended that the commission issue the orders
early next month before the first Fukushima anniversary.
An implementation timeline proposed by the staff calls for
all plants to submit a compliance plan to the agency by Feb. 28,
2013, and to incorporate all changes by Dec 31, 2016, at the
The proposed rules were among the most important changes
identified by the NRC's Fukushima task force last year and
viewed as upgrades that could move forward without significant
The task force made numerous other recommendations, but many
will require more study of the Fukushima disaster and industry
review. It will take years for the agency to modify its
regulations and implement changes outlined by the task force.
NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko has called for the work to be
completed in five years which would be an accelerated time line
for the NRC.
The staff said the proposed Fukushima rules would affect the
recently approved two-unit expansion at Southern Co's Vogtle
plant the same as any existing reactor.
On Feb. 9, the NRC approved Southern's construction and
operating license to build an advanced nuclear design over the
objections of Jaczko.
Southern officials have said the AP1000 reactor design they
are building will meet most Fukushima-related safety upgrades to
be ordered by the NRC.
The U.S. has 104 operating nuclear reactors in 31 states.