Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era

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Science  26 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 808-809
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4890

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The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident prompted regulators around the world to take a hard look at their requirements for protecting nuclear plants against severe accidents. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered a “top-to-bottom” review of its regulations, and ultimately approved a number of safety upgrades. It rejected other risk-reduction measures, however, using a screening process that did not adequately account for impacts of large-scale land contamination events. Among rejected options was a measure to end dense packing of 90 spent fuel pools, which we consider critical for avoiding a potential catastrophe much greater than Fukushima. Unless the NRC improves its approach to assessing risks and benefits of safety improvements—by using more realistic parameters in its quantitative assessments and also taking into account societal impacts—the United States will remain needlessly vulnerable to such disasters.