NRC Chairman Jaczko discusses nuclear safety during press conference

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko on April 20 addressed the media from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss several issues. One issue was in response to a letter from the House Energy and Commerce committee sent to Jaczko just one day prior.

On April 19, House Energy and Commerce leaders sent a letter to Jaczko seeking answers as to why the Chairman voted against both the combined construction and operating licenses granted for both Plant Vogtle in Geogia and the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina. President Obama’s hand-picked nuclear chief was the only NRC commissioner to vote against both projects.

“Jaczko opposed the new reactors that will provide Americans with clean, reliable power and thousands of jobs,” a statement from the E&C Committee read.

E&C Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) wrote to Chairman Jaczko asking him to clarify his opposition to nuclear power.

Jaczko has been quoted as saying he opposed the new reactors because he did not believe regulators could properly enforce new post-Fukushima requirements for the new reactors, all of which are Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

Upton, Whitfield, and Shimkus disputed this notion, in their letter to Jaczko, by writing, “It also implies that the NRC does not have the authority to impose regulatory changes after a license is issued.  Yet, the NRC issued Fukushima-related safety enhancements on March 12, 2012, to the licensees currently operating the 104 reactors here in the United States. The analogy you provided to National Journal does not comport with NRC actions and does a disservice to the public by suggesting the NRC is unable to enforce compliance with safety requirements.”

Jaczko, during the media availability, said he will respond to the E&C letter in a written format as well. Jaczko did say he is committed to doing his job as NRC chairman, everyday better than he did the day before.

“If there are ways I can do it better, I am willing to listen,” he said. “My focus is on safety, has always been on safety and will continue to be on safety.”

I believe very strongly that the Commission does need to adopt some type of condition in the license for any of these new reactors. It gives a strong statement to the American people that we will ensure that any nuclear power plant that is built and operates in this country will address the Fukushima issues before it operates.”

When asked about what operators, such as Scana Corp. at V.C. Summer and Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) at Plant Vogtle, can do to address post-Fukushima recommendations, Jaczko said going through the recommendations is a large body of work which could take many years to digest.

“I think it is appropriate that these plants make sure they can address those issues,” he said.

The NRC assembled a task force in April 2011 to examine the agency’s regulatory requirements, programs, processes, and implementation after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. The task force, made up of six senior managers and staff, made 12 recommendations to the NRC. The recommendations cover issues including the loss of all A/C electrical power at a reactor, or station blackout, reviews of seismic and flooding hazards, emergency equipment and plant staff training.

Jaczko also said the Commission received recommendations from others, such as the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.

“By and large, I believe the bulk of those recommendations are things that should be adopted by the new plants as appropriate,” he said.

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