A Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force has called for tightening safety regulations at the nation’s 104 nuclear powerplants and requiring plants to make upgrades when necessary, in areas such as seismic protection, electric power and cooling water for spent-fuel pools.

In a 90-day report released on July 13,  the NRC panel concludes that a sequence of events like those following the Japanese accident is “unlikely to occur” in the United States. Still, the existing U.S. regulatory approach, developed piece by piece over decades, is a “patchwork,” and needs to be improved, the task force says.

“The task force believes that improving the NRC’s regulatory framework is an appropriate, realistic and achievable goal,” the report concludes.

The task force produced 12 recommendations—many with short- and long-term elements---to increase safety and redefine what level of public-health protection is adequate. The recommendations include requiring plants to reevaluate and upgrade as necessary the seismic and flooding protection of their facilities, systems and components for each operating reactor and reconfirming the safety of their designs every 10 years.

In addition, the panel recommends strengthening station blackout mitigation capability for existing and new reactors; and requiring additional instrumentation and seismically protected systems to provide more cooling water to spent-fuel pools if needed.

The task force also calls for mandating at least one electrical-power system to operate spent fuel pool instruments and pumps at all times.

The panel will present its recommendations to the five members of the NRC on July 19.

Tony Pietrangelo, Nuclear Energy Institute senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, says, “The task force report does not cite significant data from the Fukushima accident to support many of its recommendations.”

Pietrangelo adds, “Given the mammoth challenge it faced in gathering and evaluating the still-incomplete information from Japan, the agency should seek broader engagement with stakeholders on the task force report to ensure that it decisions are informed by the best information possible.”

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that tightening the regulatory framework is “an important first step, but the devil is really going to be in the details…so we remain concerned until we see more details about the actual implementation” of the new procedures and requirements.

The NRC task force will undertake a longer-term review over the next six months that will include more input from stakeholders, the commission has said.