Nuclear commission issues first Fukushima safety orders

David Hecker/AP

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday issued three new safety orders stemming from lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichii Nuclear accident a year ago. Operators of the 104 U.S. nuclear reactors will have till Dec. 31, 2016, to comply with the safety upgrades.  

“The commission has taken a significant step forward on our post-Fukushima efforts,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in a statement. "Of course, there’s still a great deal of work ahead of us.”

The three top priority recommendations will have nuclear plant operators develop strategies for dealing with emergency situations that may interrupt off-site power, add more reliable instruments to measure water levels at cooling pools, where spent nuclear fuel is stored, and install hardened venting systems to prevent hydrogen buildup and explosions.

The two orders relating to emergency equipment and spent fuel pools will apply to every nuclear reactor in the United States, including the two recently licensed reactors that are being constructed at Southern Company’s Vogtle plant in Georgia.

The order to install hardened vents will apply to only U.S. boiling-water reactors that have “Mark I” or “Mark II” containment structures. The order will have the reactors improve their venting systems in order to prevent or mitigate core damage in the event of an accident such as Fukushima.

The NRC is also requesting that every operator in the U.S. analyze and update its earthquake and flood risks, conduct “walkdowns” at each plant and assess the ability to communicate in, and deal with, an emergency situation.

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