NRC Eyes Response to Fukushima

Thursday, February 23, 2012 @ 05:02 PM gHale

About 3,000 pages of transcripts of conversations recorded in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) operations center after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster are now open to the public.

These conversations show the difficulty the agency had in responding to the nuclear crisis unfolding halfway around the world.

“I want to be clear, the early hours of the first day or two were very hectic,” said NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. “There was not a lot of information. Much of what we knew came from a variety of sources — some from the Japanese, some from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and a great deal from the news media.”

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The transcripts, released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, showed agency officials struggling to get information about the disaster and trying to ascertain its potential impact on U.S. citizens in Japan, on potential fallout victims in the United States, and on operators of U.S. nuclear reactors of similar design.

The “basic facts” of the disaster are already out there, but the transcripts provide an inside look at the inner workings of a government agency at a key moment in history, an agency spokesman said.

“I don’t know if there were recordings at Three Mile Island,” said NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner, referring to the 1979 meltdown at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant. “This is a way for us to give the American public a look — a firsthand look — at what we do in a time of crisis.”

The transcripts are of conversations and phone calls at the NRC’s operations center in Rockville, MD.

Jaczko did say the transcripts show the confusion within the agency during the early days of the crisis triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, but said he believes they reflect well on the agency.

“As challenging as these days were, I have never been more honored to be the chairman of this agency than I was while I was leading the staff in this response,” Jaczko said. “What we’re making public today is in effect a very important historical record, and I’m tremendously proud of the important work here by the staff of the NRC.”

Agency officials said the Fukushima experience demonstrated the “significant limitation” the United States had on getting information about an incident “halfway around the world.”

To view the transcripts click on the NRC web site.

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