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Politico Pro: NRC commissioner: No need to 'panic' over Fukushima
August 3, 2011

Posted by Katie Brown

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NRC commissioner: No need to 'panic' over Fukushima

By Darius Dixon

August 3, 2011

Link to Article

NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis on Wednesday rejected assertions that members of his panel are trying to slow-walk the implementation of post-Fukushima safety recommendations.

"All five commissioners felt that we should not panic," he said at an event with the Bipartisan Policy Center. "We should not start issuing regulations, one after the other, just to show that we're doing something. Some of that happened after Three Mile Island, and people regretted it later."

An NRC task force issued a suite of recommendations last month after reviewing the Japanese nuclear crisis, prompting agency Chairman Gregory Jaczko to urge the commission to decide on any new regulations within 90 days. He said the NRC should implement changes throughout the nation's nuclear power fleet by 2016.

But within two weeks of Jaczko's public push, a majority of NRC commissioners suggested a more thorough review of the findings.

Apostolakis said it's simply standard procedure and efficient to conduct the review through NRC technical committees and the office of the agency's executive director for operations.

For his part, Apostolakis said he would also like the input of NRC senior technical staff in reviewing the task force's recommendations, but his vote last week also noted that "in my view, the commission should strive to reach a decision on the recommendations within 90 days."

"There is a systematic way of processing these [recommendations] through the agency, and I really want us to follow the same process for Fukushima even though some people argue that the near-term task force itself is an equivalent paper that we can vote immediately on," he said.

"I would like to know what senior management thinks," Apostolakis added. "A lot of people immediately said that if you say that, [then] ‘Ah, you want senior management to suppress some of the recommendations of the near-term task force, you bad person.'"

The task force deemed that the events that unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were "highly unlikely" to occur in the U.S.

"If a true, highly unlikely accident occurs somewhere, then we would act in a certain way," Apostolakis said. "We would be looking at these highly unlikely events and ask ourselves ‘How do we protect against this?' There would be great urgency to look at these unthinkable or unforeseen events."

But that's not what the Japanese crisis represents, he said.

"If you look at what happened at Fukushima, it turns out it was not unthinkable and it was not unforeseen, either. This is the kind of secret that everybody knows but nobody wants to start saying in public," he said.

Apostolakis described the management of the Fukushima accident as "pretty bad," citing the International Atomic Energy Agency report on the Japanese response to the crisis.

What greatly concerned Apostolakis was the discovery that Japan's historical record of tsunamis was not factored into vital protection measures at the Daiichi plant, such as the height of a critical protective wall.

"If anyone was doing the calculation of tsunamis in the United States and ignored that evidence, the NRC would complain bitterly. You can't do that," he said.


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