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Chu: Nuclear Regulatory Commission May Look at Moving Future U.S. Reactors

Fukushima-Daiichi-nuclear-plant

Reuters

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing reactor safety in the United States in light of the partial meltdown in Japan, and will determine whether nuclear reactors in the future should be constructed in less populous locations, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said Sunday.

"Certainly where you site reactors and where we site reactors going forward will be different than where we might have sited them in the past, I would say," Chu told "Fox News Sunday." "Any time there is a serious accident, we have to learn from those accidents and go forward."

But the secretary said he's not going to judge whether current reactors should be shut down or taken offline. His remarks come as Indian Point reactor 34 miles north of New York City is targeted for review -- not only for its evacuation plan but whether it should remain in service. 

About 21 million people live within 50 miles of Indian Point. 

"The Indian Point reactor is not in the situation like in Japan, but I think, again, we will be looking at whether those evacuation plans are adequate," Chu said. "I don't want to ... jump to some judgment about what we should do going forward."

According to Chu, the NRC does not consider Indian Point "unsafe," and it was not built using the same design as the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan that was disabled last week after a massive earthquake sparked a huge tsunami that shut down power to the site, making it impossible to keep pumps online to cool the reactors. 

As a result, radiation has been leaking for nearly a week, though the containment walls have been able to prevent or slow harmful output. 

However, 23 reactors in the United States are similar to the Daiichi design. Chu said since they were built, upgrades in safety have been made -- a process that continues throughout the life of U.S. reactors. 

Chu said the United States is also not going to take the same action as Germany, which last week called for shutting down seven of its oldest plants. He said the NRC is very deliberative in its reviews and looking at the life span of the reactors, and will decide whether any U.S. reactor needs to be updated or brought offline. 

"They are a very prudent agency, and we'll see what they do," he said. 

Ironically, the return of power to the Japanese site on Sunday means that reactor workers may have to release some of the pressure that's been building inside the leaking Unit 3 reactor as the cooling system produces radioactive steam. Japanese officials say so far the temperatures in Unit 3 are under control. 

At the same time, Units 5 and 6 reactors at the power plant were brought under control after days of pumping water into their fuel storage pools. That cooled temperatures to acceptable levels while electrical works continued to reconnect the units and two others in the six-reactor facility 160 miles north of Tokyo. 

In the process of trying to keep the temperatures down over the past week so the cores would not melt and release harmful levels of radiation into the air, facilities managers ordered seawater dumped onto the Fukushima Daiichi complex, which means that once the emergency is resolved, the facility will be abandoned. 

"Once you use seawater, those reactors are not recoverable. But the most important thing was to keep those reactors cool, and that's the step they took," Chu said, noting that with each passing hour, "things are more under control."