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Live from #NEA2011: Creating working relationships in the chaos of Fukushima

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Management

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations was created after an incident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979 to help the industry operate more safely. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, the institute is actively involved in improving worldwide safety standards to ensure lessons do not go unlearned, said retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Ellis, president and CEO of the organization.

He said at the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington, D.C., that the U.S. nuclear industry responded “capably” to the incident in Japan, but it should still strive for excellence. Ellis said the Fukushima Daiichi incident has shown that site-specific safety plans for nuclear plants need to be upgraded, and a national or an international body must be ready to respond to nuclear emergencies. Such an effort, with a focus on creating and developing working relationships among industry and regulatory bodies worldwide, will break down communication silos, he said.

“The long-term goal should be a process and a structure that crosses those industry, government and private-sector boundaries, to enable consultation and collaboration in a time of crisis,” Ellis said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said regulators worldwide must communicate with one another as reviews are made and regulations implemented so there is a degree of consistency in the industry.

The NRC is working on a twofold review of the nuclear industry to ensure federal regulations are enhanced where needed, Jaczko said. He said the commission’s review must be done “systematically, methodically and with a sense of urgency.” The first part is a 90-day review of factors such as feasibility of nuclear plants’ emergency plans. The second part will determine whether additional efforts are needed to comply with existing regulations, as well as examine areas in which additional rules might be necessary. The second part will take about six months and begin before the 90-day review ends in July, Jaczko said.

Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman said nuclear energy still has a place in the Obama administration’s plan for the American energy portfolio. For years, President Barack Obama has said nuclear is important to the country, but that point was highlighted this year when he called for a drastic reduction of oil imports, Poneman said. Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, combined with the disaster in Japan, have made energy markets more volatile, and nuclear can help stabilize that, Poneman said.