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Tuesday
Mar292011

Nuclear Crisis In Japan Will Not Slow Relicensing of U.S. Plants

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant will not have an impact on the re-licensing of U.S. nuclear reactors, a top Nuclear Regulatory Commission official told lawmakers Tuesday.

“There’s no technical reason, that I’m aware of, that this would impact the license renewal process for the remaining plants in the U.S.,” Bill Borchardt, the NRC Executive Director for Operations, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Over half of the 104 operating reactors in the U.S. have already received license renewals for an additional 20 years of operation.  The NRC expects that the other half will continue with the license extension process.

“If there was a design change necessary in order to adapt the plants to what we’re learning from Japan we would take that action absent or outside of the license-renewal, review process,” Borchardt explained. “We would take that without hesitation.”

Several lawmakers have called for a moratorium on relicensing in light of the ongoing crisis in Japan.

Peter Lyons, the acting assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy, explained that the Fukushima Daiichi plants “are in a slow recovery from the accident. However, long-term cooling of the reactors and pools is essential during this period and has not been adequately restored to date.”

Borchardt agreed. “The situation in general continues to further stabilize, although there are many hurdles that remain.”

Among those hurdles are reports of radioactive water in the basements of the turbine buildings which, according to Borchardt, is from the water that has been injected to cool the reactors.

“We believe that the water is the result of the ‘bleed and feed’ process that they have been using to keep water in the reactor cores and in the containment of the units,” Borchardt said. “The exact flow path of that leakage has not been determined.”  

As for reports of plutonium in the soil near the nuclear plant, Lyons said the news did not come as a surprise. “All operating reactors, whether they start with any plutonium in the fuel or not, build up plutonium in the course of operation. So finding plutonium that was derived from either the operating reactors or the spent fuel pools would not be regarded as a major surprise. Certainly it would be a concern if it were in significant levels,” he explained.

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