July 28, 2011 / 5:52 PM / 9 years ago

Third US nuclear official rejects quick overhaul

 * Three of five NRC commissioners agree on slower approach
 * Effectively kills Jaczko plan for rapid decisions
 * Ostendorff-"significant reservations" on shift in rules
 By Roberta Rampton
 WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - A third commissioner at the U.S. nuclear safety regulator has rejected a rapid overhaul of rules for U.S. plants in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster advocated by the agency's chairman, voting instead for a slower approach.
 The vote by William Ostendorff, a Republican on the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission, calls for more extensive reviews of U.S. nuclear rules and effectively puts an end to a plan pushed by Chairman Gregory Jaczko to respond to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster,
 Ostendorff said he has "significant reservations" about proceeding with a key recommendation by a U.S. task force that reviewed the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years to see whether there were lessons for the U.S. regulator.
 "This is perhaps one of the most important votes I will cast as a commissioner," Ostendorff wrote.
 The task force called for a shift in the NRC's regime that would force big utility companies to plan for catastrophes far beyond what they were originally designed to withstand.
 Any retrofits to the nation's fleet of 104 reactors that result from the review will add costs for operators such as Exelon EXC.N, Entergy (ETR.N), and PG&E (PCG.N).
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  LINK-Ostendorff's vote        r.reuters.com/cup82s
  FACTBOX-What's in the task force report?  [ID:nN1E76C176]
  NEWSMAKER-Jaczko meshes physics, politics [ID:nN06200024]
  FACTBOX-Commissioners at the NRC          [ID:nN06206336]
  TAKE A LOOK-US maps out nuclear reforms     [ID:nNUKEUSA]
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 THREE OF FIVE AGREE ON SLOWER APPROACH
 Ostendorff said the NRC should review its regulatory framework, but should keep that separate from its Fukushima response.
 "Such an effort would constitute a highly significant undertaking for the entire agency and realistically would take some number of years to accomplish," he said.
 Ostendorff agreed with fellow commissioners William Magwood, a Democrat, and Kristine Svinicki, a Republican, who last week said they wanted NRC staff to develop a schedule within 45 days to evaluate the task force recommendations and gather input from the public and industry. [ID:nN1E76J0TL]
 Ostendorff said the agency needs to ensure its regulations are "not in an unjustifiable state of transition," but said there were some recommendations that could be implemented in the short term, such as re-evaluating the ability of plants to withstand earthquakes and floods.
 JACZKO WANTED DECISIONS IN 90 DAYS
 Jaczko, the NRC's chairman, had proposed that commissioners hold a series of public meetings and make decisions on the task force's ideas within 90 days, with a view to completing the changes within five years.
 That would be an expedited timetable for a regulator that typically moves much more cautiously. [ID:nN1E76H148]
 But in their written votes, the three commissioners said the task force found that there were not imminent safety risks at U.S. plants, meaning the NRC did not have to rush into changes.
 Jaczko has not formally voted on the issue, but proposed a plan in a public speech earlier this month. The vote of the fourth commissioner, George Apostolakis, has not yet been posted on the NRC's website.
 Once all commissioners have voted, the NRC's secretariat synthesizes their opinions into a consensus position contained in a "staff requirements memorandum" or SRM that gives NRC staff direction on the next steps to take.  (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)   

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