U.S. nuclear power plants are effectively implementing modifications required in the aftermath of the devastating Fukushima I nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told a Platts Energy Podium newsmaker event in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. "I think there's been some good progress," said NRC chief Stephen Burns.
U.S. reactors will mostly complete this year modifications ordered by NRC in 2012 requiring that they increase their ability to handle extreme external events such as earthquakes and flooding, Burns said. One of the agency's post-Fukushima orders required that a combination of permanent, portable and off-site equipment be available to provide water and power to help cool reactors.
Some reactors have additional time to make those modifications if they are also installing hardened vents that would reduce the pressure in the vessel housing the reactor during a severe accident, he noted, and analysis continues for additional modifications that could be required at certain plants.
Burns told reporters the agency has not seen any evidence that nuclear operators facing challenging market conditions or being permanently shut are cutting corners on safety, adding that his agency's system of inspections would pick up on such a thing. This "is something we pay attention to," said the chairman. "We aren't seeing … a real degradation in attention to safety" at economically challenged plants.
Burns also said he is not aware of any change to the status of the nomination of Jessie Roberson, a commissioner of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, to become the fifth NRC commissioner. Roberson was nominated in July to the vacant position, but the U.S. Senate has not acted on the nomination. Burns said the lack of a full membership on the commission has not kept it from tackling any issues.