Feds to Review Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants

Monday, March 21, 2011 @ 11:03 AM gHale

A “comprehensive review” of the safety of all U.S. nuclear plants will take place following what U.S. officials are calling the dangerous and complicated situation at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors.

At the same time, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Sunday Japan’s nuclear crisis might make it less likely that new nuclear reactors go up near large American cities, just one of many safety changes that could be forthcoming as U.S. officials review reactor safety.

President Barack Obama took the rare step and called upon the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an independent commission, to conduct the review.

“When we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people,” Obama said Thursday.

Obama’s statement came as he said “harmful levels” of radiation from the Japanese nuclear disaster should not reach the U.S., even as other officials conceded it could take weeks to bring the crippled nuclear complex under control.

There are 104 nuclear reactors in the United States, providing roughly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. “Nuclear energy is an important part of our own energy future,” Obama said.

“A review of our nuclear plants is an appropriate step after an event of this scale, and we expect that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct its own assessment,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “The industry’s highest priority is the safe operation of 104 reactors in 31 states and we will incorporate lessons learned from this accident…”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the agency was screening passengers and cargo for “even a blip of radiation.”

Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told reporters at a White House briefing it could be some time before the crisis is under control as crews work to cool spent-fuel rods and get the damaged Japanese reactors under control. The activity could continue for days and “possibly weeks,” Jaczko said.

Meanwhile, Chu said it may become less likely new nuclear reactors go up near large U.S. cities.

“Certainly where you site reactors and where we site reactors going forward will be different than where we might have sited them in the past,” Chu said in response to questions about the Indian Point nuclear plant near New York City. “Any time there is a serious accident, we have to learn from those accidents and go forward.”

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