The safety of pools containing radioactive waste stored at U.S. nuclear plants need to improve immediately and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should act now, an internal report said.
The report elevates the importance of spent-fuel pools, saying current regulations do not require instruments measuring water levels to be operable in case of an accident. NRC staff conducted the report.
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Water levels at spent-fuel pools were a principal issue after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled a nuclear plant in Japan.
In June, three months after the tsunami, U.S. officials said newly obtained video showed that the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex probably did not go dry, as NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko had insisted in March.
U.S. officials never have explained fully why Jaczko made the claim but said he based it on information from NRC staff and other experts who went to Japan after the disaster.
In its report released this week, NRC staff said requiring plants to have more reliable instruments to measure water levels at spent fuel pools would give operators and regulators more information about radioactive waste during an extended power loss that could disable cooling equipment. Pools containing radioactive waste need to stay cool to avoid meltdowns.
The recommendation on spent-fuel pools is one of eight steps agency staff said the NRC should take “without delay” as it responds to the Japan crisis.
The report also recommended immediate reviews of seismic and flooding risks at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors. Those risks have come under greater scrutiny in the aftermath of the Japan crisis and the East Coast earthquake in August, which caused the ground to shake much more than the design of a Virginia nuclear plant near the quake’s epicenter was to withstand.
The report also said plant operators should undergo a requirement where they need to improve their response to prolonged power blackouts or events that damage more than one reactor at the same time, as happened in Japan.