Safety-design rules approved for nuke plants

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Of The Patriot-News

Nuclear reactors built in the U.S. will have to show how they would be protected from, or clean up after, the crash of an airliner under new requirements outlined by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The requirement, which affects only new plant designs, was described by the agency as a major step to enhance security at nuclear plants, which have been identified as terrorism targets.

"This proposal gives us the chance to assess and make practicable changes to new reactor designs early in the design process," said NRC Chairman Dale Klein in a prepared statement.

The announcement comes three months after the NRC rejected calls by the Committee to Bridge the Gap to require existing plants to modify their designs to withstand a Sept. 11-style attack. The NRC said that preventing hijacked airliners from reaching a nuclear plant was the responsibility of the military and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Instead, the latest NRC proposal focuses on how plants can be designed to mitigate a crash, not prevent one. Similar requirements were imposed on existing plants in 2002.

The announcement was denounced by watchdog groups around the country and by NRC Commissioner Gregory C. Jaczko, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the measure. Jaczko's proposal to require that new plants be designed to withstand an airplane hit was rejected by the commission.

The requirement, approved by the commission Tuesday, puts the agency "in the untenable position of providing hints and suggestions for applicants and vendors to consider and then hope their self-interest would incline them to make the necessary improvements," Jaczko said.

Scott Portzline, who monitors plant security for the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, called the announcement meaningless.

"They are claiming this is a major step ... and this is actually a major step to avoid requiring major protection. It's despicable," he said.

The NRC, which licenses commercial nuclear reactors, sets security standards that all plants must meet. The standards, known as the "design basis threat," are based on intelligence sources.

GARRY LENTON: 255-8264 or