Two members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a “comprehensive investigation” of all nuclear facilities in the United States to assess their capacity to withstand catastrophic natural or man-made disasters.

In a March 17 letter, Committee Chairman Barber Boxer (D-Calif.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, asked the NRC to provide the committee with a full evaluation of the nation’s domestic nuclear reactors, with immediate attention given to ones that share similar designs as the failing reactors in Japan.

The fallout from the nuclear crisis in Japan is putting worldwide scrutiny on the fallibility of nuclear powerplants, including in the United States, where safety concerns have been raised at several aging plants by advocacy groups like the Union for Concerned Scientists.

A day earlier, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told members of the Senate panel that he believed nuclear plants in the United States are prepared for worst-case scenarios, but that his agency, along with the Dept. of Energy, will look at “lessons learned” from Japan to see if changes need to be made to the way powerplants are regulated and designed in the U.S.

“The agency plans to move forward with a systematic and methodical look at all of the plants---primarily based on the incident in Japan�to see if any changes or modifications need to be made to our regulations.,” he said. He added that the NRC routinely makes modifications to the design of its reactors when a problem is identified.

He warned against a “knee-jerk reaction” and said, “What we need is a thoughtful response.”

But Boxer and other Democrats on the committee were critical. “You’re doing nothing new,” Boxer said. Pointing to announcements in recent days of shutdowns or cancellations of new plants in China, Germany and Switzerland, she said, “I don’t see anything proarctive. We’e going to follow this up. I’m looking at you for more leadership.”