"I do think the NRC is probably correct that there will be points where they know this is a real lesson learned event, and they need to take action," Stenger said. It is essential, however, for the NRC to be careful where it draws the line, he added. "There's validity to both sides. The key thing is for the NRC to make sure they have an adequate technical basis and understanding of what happened, before imposing significant new requirements."
Industry worries probe will go too far, and too fast
The industry's Nuclear Energy Institute has already drawn a line opposing NRC orders on new safety requirements.
Tony Pietrangelo, NEI's chief nuclear officer, acknowledged that the some companies fell short in the post-Fukushima inspections ordered by the NRC to test compliance with security regulations adopted after the 9/11 attacks and the voluntary severe accident mitigation guidelines now in place. The inspections identified U.S. plants where fire equipment to be used for emergency reactor core cooling was not protected against earthquakes, for example, or where crucial reactor electrical controls could be knocked out by flooding.
"They did find some deficiencies, no question," Pietrangelo said. The industry is taking action, he added.
"We've already started walk-downs [inspections] on seismic and flooding," he said. That process can be verified in ways other than mandatory orders. "I still think that orders are not appropriate.
"There are some near-term things we can definitely do," within a year or two. These could include new measures to extend plant protection when outside and backup alternating current power and new instrumentation to monitor conditions in spent fuel pools in emergencies. "It's how you do it.
"The task force was sequestered for 90 days. Now we need more analysis and more stakeholder interaction. We want to do it right, and we want to do it once. The stuff has to be prioritized so that the new regulations don't preclude us from doing things that could have a greater impact on reliability," Pietrangelo said.
NEI's criticism of the task force for pushing too far and too fast has been picked up by some leading House and Senate Republicans on energy committees. The task force process has become another GOP arrow aimed at Jaczko for his role in halting the NRC's review of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear fuel repository.
Roger Mattson, who headed the NRC's division of safety systems at the time of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and led an investigation of the accident, called the task force work "a good report."
'Things that need to be done now'
"They've drawn a careful line between what they think is required [immediately through orders] and what should take a longer time, and it looks reasonable to me. These are good, common sense recommendations," said Mattson, who helped convene a group of international nuclear safety experts who recommended stronger international reactor safeguards to the International Atomic Energy Agency following the Fukushima accident.
The task force recommendation on converting voluntary guidelines on severe accident responses into mandatory rules is right. It doesn't require a lot more stakeholder involvement, he said.
"The industry said they would do it. The proof came whether they had. And they hadn't, so now it's time to regulate it." The task force recommendation to harden venting systems should be fast-tracked too, he said. "I'm not willing to wait five years to deal with containment venting. To throw everything into rulemaking would be a serious mistake. There are things that need to be done now," Mattson said.
But the industry gets support from an unusual direction. David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project, said he prefers for the industry to make its own arguments, but he agrees that rulemaking is the proper course for most of the task force recommendations.