NRC chair brings seismic focus to job

Associated Press Modified: November 8, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: November 8, 2012
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ATLANTA (AP) — Recent earthquakes show the nation's nuclear industry needs to re-evaluate the geologic hazards facing power plants, a process that has already started, the new chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this week.

President Barack Obama appointed Allison Macfarlane, a geologist and expert on nuclear waste, to the post in May after former NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko announced his resignation. Jaczko pushed for safety reforms but was criticized for a style that his fellow commissioners and agency employees described as bullying. Macfarlane traveled to Atlanta this week to address top nuclear executives gathered for a conference of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.

In March, the NRC instructed power companies to re-evaluate the seismic and flooding hazards that their power plants face. While such a re-evaluation had been discussed for years, the issue accelerated after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan, leading to multiple meltdowns and radioactive releases. Later that year, the North Anna nuclear plant in Virgina was struck by an earthquake that caused peak ground movement at twice the level at which the plant was designed. No major damage or complications were reported.