NRC Chairman Macfarlane, Others Discuss New Nuclear Safety Regulations

Forum-HeaderAs the global energy community navigates the best way forward in the process of formulating new nuclear safety regulations, U.S. and Japanese authorities on nuclear energy recently convened with the U.S.-Japan Roundtable to share their insights. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Allison Macfarlane updated Roundtable members on the NRC’s post-Fukushima efforts to improve nuclear safety and its collaboration with Japan’s new regulatory agency. It was her first visit to the U.S.-Japan Roundtable, which regularly hosts NRC Chairmen and Commissioners.

Macfarlane offered the audience a picture of the NRC’s ongoing and close partnership with the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (JNRA). In December 2012, the NRC enacted a bilateral agreement with JNRA, which resulted in “a dialogue with regular communication between the staffs.” Macfarlane emphasized the qualities of an effective regulating body: “independent, well-funded and staffed, free of undue influence, and open and transparent.” As Japan looks to finalize new safety standards by July 18, Macfarlane acknowledged that, as is the case in the United States, those regulations will continue to be improved over time.

Macfarlane described the NRC as an organization that works “closely with industry and openly with the public.” The NRC prioritized its post-Fukushima response recommendations into three “tiers.” Tier 1 concerns, such as preparing for beyond design events, are already being addressed, and now they are working on Tiers 2 and 3. The triple disasters in Japan caused the NRC to rethink the likelihood of some hazards, such as multi-unit accidents. As a result, U.S. plants are developing FLEX response strategies that account for station blackouts and broken infrastructure.

Prior to Macfarlane’s remarks, Hirobumi Kayama, Director of the Office for International Nuclear Energy Cooperation in Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, provided an update on nuclear energy policy and regulation in Japan. His cross-industry overview touched on reprocessing and the fuel cycle; the effect of the energy mix on Japan’s economy; and the new administration’s energy policies. He asserted that LNG and oil cannot substitute for nuclear as a baseload energy and it is only a matter of time before utilities will be forced to use coal-fired plants again.

Following the meeting, the U.S.-Japan Roundtable sponsored a reception featuring the Honorable Ellen O. Tauscher, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, and Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy. Both speakers extolled the importance of the U.S.-Japan strategic relationship.