WASHINGTON — Within hours of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s announcement that he wanted to phase out nuclear energy, a special government task force in the United States charted a path forward for nuclear power in the United States Wednesday.

The Japan task force of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission suggested gradual improvements for the 104 U.S. nuclear reactors that would allow them to cope with power outages, spent fuel pools and core melts in the event of an emergency. (See the full PDF-format report.)

(Related: “Energy-Short Japan Eyes Renewable Future“)

The NRC commissioned the 90-day study shortly after the March tsunami that touched off a crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Recommendations in the report include:

• Requiring plants to evaluate and, if needed, strengthen their protections for natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, fires and floods;
• Establishing methods to keep spent fuel pools cool for at least 72 hours;
• Equipping reactors with a coping time of eight hours in the event of a blackout;
• Formulating emergency plans to address longer power outages occurring in multiple reactors;
• Bolstering emergency response capability and procedures;
• Requiring hardened vent designs in specific Mark I and Mark II containment structures that enclose nuclear reactors;
• Increasing regulatory oversight of nuclear power plant safety;
• Continued international investigations into the causes and failures of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

“A sequence of events like the Fukushima accident is unlikely to occur in the United States,” the task force said, but any incident is “inherently unacceptable.”

(Related: “How Is Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Different?“)

The U.S. is one of many countries reviewing their nuclear safety, but the findings of the task force are not binding. The NRC will reconvene on July 19 to hear from Charles Miller, leader of the task force, and his investigators.

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