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NRC chairman proposes timetable for nuclear industry reforms

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
  • The head of NRC says action is needed on safety-rule changes at nuclear plants
  • The push for reforms comes in the wake of Japan's disaster at a nuclear plant
  • NRC chairman Jaczko says he believes American nuclear plants are safe
  • But any accident is unacceptable and "the costs of inaction are simply too high"

Washington (CNN) -- The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday the NRC should move quickly on post-Fukushima reforms, saying the commission should draw up proposed changes within 90 days, and the industry should implement them within five years.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko reiterated his belief nuclear power plants in the U.S. are safe and that a Fukushima-type event is unlikely -- a reference to the the triple meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant after an earthquake and tsunami in March.

But Jaczko said any accident would be unacceptable, and that action is needed.

"We have no other choice. The costs of inaction are simply too high," he said.

Last week, an NRC task force completed its 90-day "quick look" at Fukushima, and made 12 recommendations, some of them sweeping in nature. Perhaps most significant, it calls on the NRC to replace a "patchwork" of regulations developed over the years with "a logical, systematic, and coherent" regulatory framework.

It also recommends the commission require power plants to upgrade protections to nuclear reactors and spent-fuel pools to further protect them from earthquakes, floods and fires.

The task force also said the NRC should require nuclear power plants to be better prepared to handle power blackouts and events that affect more than one reactor.

Jaczko said the task force report is a good road map for the NRC to follow.

Jaczko did not endorse, nor reject, any of the task force's recommendations, instead he focused on the need to take action expeditiously.

"In light of the task force's work, I see no reason why the commission cannot provide clear direction on each of their recommendations in less than 90 days," Jaczko said. "That is the time the commission gave the task force to do its job, and I believe that is more than enough time for the commission to outline a clear path forward."

Jaczko said he does not expect the commission to take final action on all of the matters, but he did expect it to initiate longer-term rule-making that will allow for public participation.

Both the NRC and the nuclear industry, he said, should "commit to complete and implement the process of learning and applying the lessons of the Fukushima accident within five years -- by 2016.".

Jaczko told reporters he pitched the idea of a 90-day and five-year timetables to other commissioners Monday morning. Asked if other commissioners supported the goals, he responded, "We'll see."

The full commission is expected to meet Tuesday to review the task-force recommendation.