Chairman Carper Highlights GAO Report Findings that Nuclear Regulatory Bodies Worldwide Have Made Changes in Response to the Fukushima Daiichi Accident

WASHINGTON – Today, on the third anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, Senator Tom Carper (D- Del.), chairman of the Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure and recently former chairman of the Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, highlighted a comprehensive report released by Government Accountability Office (GAO) on worldwide nuclear regulation and safety.

At Chairman Carper’s request, GAO examined the actions nuclear regulatory bodies from selected countries, including the United States, have taken in response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011.  Specifically the report examined countries’ efforts to strengthen nuclear safety, the extent to which these countries have established automated systems for collecting and transmitting data to the nuclear regulatory body, and steps key international organizations have taken to support nuclear regulatory bodies and promote nuclear safety worldwide. The report, entitled Nuclear Safety: Countries’ Regulatory Bodies Have Made Changes in Response to the Fukushima Daiichi Accident (GAO-14-109), is available on GAO’s website.

“Today marks the third anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan and triggered one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” said Chairman Carper. “Nuclear energy continues to provide a clean, climate-friendly energy option for the world, however, the Fukushima accident serves as a powerful reminder that every nation is vulnerable to unexpected disasters, whether an act of nature or terrorist attack, and a nuclear accident anywhere is an accident everywhere.  While we cannot predict when or where the next major disaster will occur, we do know that adequate preparation and response planning are vital to limiting risk and mitigating potential impacts. 

“During my time as Chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, I worked with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure that we learned from Fukushima and incorporated additional safety standards to ensure something similar does not happen in this country,” continued Chairman Carper.  “I am encouraged by the Government Accountability Office’s report that other nations with developed or developing nuclear energy programs are joining us in incorporating lessons learned to strengthen and better protect the world-wide nuclear power plant fleet.  This report highlights several main lessons the global community is focused on – all of which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission quickly identified after Fukushima as issues to focus on in this country.

“This report also confirmed what I have long believed – a strong, independent oversight agency is a key to success. I was encouraged to hear from the Government Accountability Office that many countries are moving toward the independent regulatory oversight structure the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has long enjoyed.  Lastly, this report noted that the international community – as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – can still do more when it comes to nuclear safety.  I look forward to working with the Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, stakeholders, and global leaders to continue to improve upon global nuclear safety, while we grow this clean energy worldwide.”

According to the GAO report, the Fukushima Daiichi accident underscored the importance of countries having a strong, competent, and independent regulatory body as well as the potentially harmful consequences of not having strong regulatory bodies. Fortunately, GAO found that countries have taken the Fukushima accident seriously and are taking corrective actions to strengthen their independent regulatory bodies in order to promote nuclear safety.

GAO’s review, based on a sample of 16 countries that, together, operate 78 percent of the world’s nuclear power reactors, found that nuclear regulatory bodies have taken steps to strengthen nuclear safety in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, with an increased focus on considering previously unimagined accident scenarios. Furthermore, international organizations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—an autonomous international organization affiliated with the United Nations—have taken steps to support nuclear regulatory bodies and help them identify the most important lessons of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and promote regulatory changes to enhance nuclear safety worldwide.

The findings of the GAO report include:

  • Nuclear regulatory bodies have learned many lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and implementing these lessons will take time and commitment. Japan has fundamentally restructured its regulatory framework, and three other countries—China, Sweden, and Vietnam—are providing their nuclear regulatory bodies with additional resources. Countries are also focusing more on previously unimagined accident scenarios, such as those affecting multiple reactors within a given power plant. Most countries reviewed by GAO are considering or have issued new requirements with regard to emergency equipment, hydrogen control, and filtered venting.
  • Six of the countries in GAO’s review, including the United States, have automated systems for collecting and transmitting critical data to the nuclear regulatory body during an accident, but none of these systems are currently designed to operate under severe emergency conditions, such as the loss of off-site power and lines of communication as occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.
  • IAEA – which offers peer review missions that evaluate, among other things, a country’s nuclear safety regulatory framework –  does not systematically track the status of the recommendations made by its peer review missions and does not know the full extent to which the recommendations have been implemented by the host countries. GAO concluded that without this information, IAEA cannot fully determine the impact and effectiveness of these review missions in improving nuclear safety, and that because not all of the recommendations of the peer review missions are made public, countries may have less incentive to follow up on them.

The GAO report’s recommendations include:

  • The Secretary of State, in coordination with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), should work with and encourage officials from IAEA to systematically track the status of the recommendations made by the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) peer review missions and make this information publicly available to the extent feasible.
  • The NRC should consider expediting the Commission’s decision on whether or how to upgrade the Emergency Response Data System so that it would continue transmitting data to the nuclear regulatory body during a severe accident that results in the loss of off-site power and lines of communication.

The full report is available at: