* Some U.S. reactors slow to act on safety upgrades
* Group says all U.S. reactors must be proactive on safety
* Report may boost calls against relicensing old reactors
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, March 22 Two days before the
Japanese earthquake that struck the Fukushima nuclear power
plant, the U.N. atomic watchdog issued a report sounding an
alarm about the safety at some older U.S. nuclear plants.
The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency
questioned whether the utilities licensed to run older U.S.
nuclear reactors were doing enough to upgrade plant safety.
"The licensee actions to upgrade the quality and
reliability of the operating facilities to strive for their
safety enhancement appears to be less than in many other
countries where aging facilities are in operation," the agency,
known as the IAEA, said in its March 9 report that looked at
how America's nuclear plants are regulated at the request of
the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The safety of older U.S. nuclear reactors is a pressing
issue following the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power
plant, whose first of six reactors went online in 1971.
After the Japanese earthquake, some lawmakers and
environmentalists are calling for a halt in renewing the
licenses of U.S. reactors beyond their initial 40-year life
The IAEA findings will appeal to "the folks who don't find
nuclear power to be the answer," said Christine Tezak, energy
and environmental analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. "Will
opponents to nuclear power point them out? Yes."
The NRC said it would continue to review the findings.
"We cannot unilaterally impose new requirements unless
there is a solid technical base for doing so," said NRC
spokesman Scott Burnell.
President Barack Obama has since ordered the NRC to conduct
a comprehensive review of the safety at all 104 reactors
operating in the United States in response to the Japanese
An IAEA team of 22 nuclear experts, including an official
from Japan's nuclear regulatory agency serving as the team's
deputy leader, visited two U.S. nuclear plants in October to
assess America's regulatory structure against international
The group's final report, which attracted little attention,
gave an overall thumbs up on how U.S. nuclear power plants were
However, the group said some owners of aging nuclear plants
took "voluntary proactive measures" to improve safety, such as
replacing buried pipes, installing new backup diesel generators
and modernizing main control rooms.
Other plant operators, which the report did not name, had a
more relaxed attitude.
"Some other plants may not upgrade the quality and
reliability of their equipment as long as they can demonstrate
that a plant is in compliance with the regulations," the report
The IAEA's suggestion: "The NRC should consider possible
measures to ensure that all licensees are more proactive in
upgrading the systems, structures and components of their
facilities with the objective to improve safety margins."
The group also suggested that the NRC make it clear to
plant operators "that they have responsibility to take their
own initiatives to improve safety whenever reasonably
(Editing by Russell Blinch and Cynthia Osterman)