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Tuesday
Aug142012

Nuclear Regulator Ticks Off Her Wish List

 

The new chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday that she had asked the agency’s staff to look into the likely effects of climate change on nuclear power reactors.

As I write elsewhere in The Times, the chairwoman, Allison M. Macfarlane, is a geologist who focuses on nuclear waste and earthquake safety, among other topics. She was answering a question about the shutdown of the Millstone 2 reactor in Waterford, Conn., on Sunday. The water pulled in from Long Island Sound had become so warm that it exceeded the temperature limit specified in the plant’s operating license, 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Speaking at a reporters’ roundtable organized by the trade publication IHS The Energy Daily, Dr. Macfarlane said the study would cover areas like how plants would fare if storms grew more severe and flooding increased, and how they might compete for water if rainfall patterns shifted.

Making her first appearance before reporters, Dr. Macfarlane also made these points:

  • Her agency cannot set policy on the disposal of nuclear waste, only regulate the projects that are proposed, but at some point, Congress and the president are going to have to make some policy decisions, now that the Yucca Mountain repository project in Nevada is officially dead. The commission can regulate spent fuel pools and their alternative, dry cask storage, now in use at many reactors. But “In the end you need a repository, because the alternative of just leaving it there indefinitely above ground is not really a suitable alternative,’’ she said.

  • The agency does not yet know how it will replace its policy, thrown out by an appeals court last month, of continuing to license nuclear plants even though is no clear path to waste disposal. But it is working on the problem, and the commissioners have received a paper from the commission’s staff outlining the possibilities.

  • The agency needs to improve its communications to foster public confidence in its work. Asked if the commission needed to show that it was not a victim of “regulatory capture,” a Washington term indicating that a government agency has come under the sway of the industry it supposedly controls, Dr. Macfarlane replied, “If that ends up being part of the message, that would be fine.” But she added, “My impression so far is that is not the case at all.’’

  • If Nuclear Regulatory Commission documents are going to continue to be so full of hard-to-understand acronyms, they should begin with an L.O.A. (That’s “List of Acronyms,” she explained dryly. Nobody at the agency with whom she has spoken understood that acronym about acronyms, Dr. Macfarlane said.)

Have a good one!

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