WASHINGTON – America's nuclear power industry needs to do a better job of planning for rare but catastrophic events such as the Fukushima disaster in Japan, according to a panel of scientists asked by Congress to make recommendations for nuclear safety.
While nuclear design rules have focused on withstanding more predictable problems, it's the highly unusual but extreme events that have caused the worst accidents in recent decades, such as Chernobyl in 1986, Three Mile Island in 1979 and Fukushima three years ago. More can be done to plan for such events, said the report released Thursday by the National Academy of Sciences.
Current approaches for regulating nuclear plant safety "are clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents and mitigating their consequences," concluded the authors of the report, who included nuclear scientists, physicists and engineers.
The U.S. nuclear industry has been struggling to compete with other sources of energy on the basis of cost as well as local opposition over safety concerns. The average age of U.S. reactors is about 33 years. Four shut down last year, and the only new reactors under construction are in the Southeast: South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
The accident left Japan scrambling to find other sources of energy and Germany pledging to phase out nuclear by 2021. Other nations are slowing their construction of nuclear plants as they review safety rules, the International Energy Agency said, although it expects China, South Korea, India and Russia to lead a future nuclear resurgence.