Study of Japan disaster may affect Pilgrim plant
Reactor design in both facilities
In a decision likely to have an impact on Plymouth’s Pilgrim nuclear power plant, top US nuclear regulators have agreed to put some recommendations from a study of the Japanese nuclear disaster into effect in the near future and consider a recommendation for a major policy change after a year-and-a-half study.
The 40-year-old Pilgrim nuclear power plant has the same kind of plant design, called a
Beyond Nuclear, a coalition of nuclear opponents and watchdog groups that petitioned the NRC to shut down plants like Pilgrim, called these reactors “almost identical to the Fukushima reactors that melted down in Japan’’ and said they are “dangerous and seriously flawed.’’
The NRC appointed a task force to study the Japanese nuclear disaster, which recently released its “Review of Insights from the Fukishima Dai-ichi Accident’’ and a list of a dozen recommendations. In response, the commission last month directed agency staff to prepare a plan to implement short-term changes such as requiring reliable hardened vent designs in reactors like Pilgrim to reduce the likelihood of dangerous radioactive releases. It will also require plant owners to study and upgrade their reactors’ protection from earthquakes and floods.
But the commission gave agency staff 18 months to study the task force’s most sweeping recommendation - a call for revising the agency’s regulatory approach to rely more on a “defense in depth’’ approach rather than risk assessment. Now, if owners can show that the risk of a severe accident is low, fewer safeguards are required. Nuclear critics contend that current regulations fail to take into consideration the full extent of the environmental impact and economic losses likely to follow a serious nuclear accident in the United States.
In a statement announcing the decision, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko called for a new “regulatory framework that is logical, systematic, coherent, and more easily understood.’’
But US Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and frequent nuclear critic, said there is no need for “18 additional months of redundant study.’’ Markey said the commission should have agreed to replace “the current patchwork of safety regulations’’ without the additional study period.
The NRC’s task force also advised the commission to turn down critics’ demand to suspend operations at Pilgrim and other plants while new regulations are being developed.
Pilgrim Watch, the Duxbury-based watchdog group that has challenged Pilgrim’s request for a 20-year license renewal, criticized this recommendation.
“Pilgrim’s failed Fukushima-design puts Boston, Providence, and Cape Cod - indeed New England - at great risk,’’ said Mary Lampert, the group’s president. “What will it take for NRC to learn the lessons from Fukushima?’’
Pilgrim officials, however, have insisted that their plant is protected against the problems that led to safety breakdowns in Japan, citing enhanced safety systems such as underground fuel tanks for backup generators in case of the loss of outside power over an extended period.
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.