"Addressing a Gap in Nuclear Regulation"

Land contamination may be as important as the direct radiation dose to humans in setting safety standards for nuclear plants, the disaster at Japan's Fukushima site suggests.

"For almost 40 years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's mantra has been that public health and safety are adequately protected by the agency's regulatory standards. But the triple meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant 18 months ago suggests that the commission needs to go beyond direct health impacts in adopting safeguards, commission staff members and outside experts argued at a three-hour hearing on Tuesday.'

'The question of a gap in regulations was first raised early this year by Gregory B. Jaczko, the commission's previous chairman, who advanced the idea that the commission's goals were so flawed that what transpired at Fukushima could have been judged to meet the agency's safety standards. Tests so far have suggested that no member of the general public received a radiation dose high enough to cause immediate health effects.

But land contamination forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and has prevented most of them from returning, some noted at the commission hearing. 'The Fukushima disaster has cast a brighter light on the true aspects of post-accident conditions, such as land contamination,' said Allison M. Macfarlane, who took over as the commission's chairwoman in July."

Matthew L. Wald reports for the New York Times September 11, 2012.

Source: Green/NYT, 09/12/2012