UPDATE 2-US nuclear agency plans safety review of reactors

* US nuclear regulator to review plants in light of Japan

* Task force to do short- and longer-term review

* Commissioner: crisis has not created an emergency in US
(Adds comments from commissioners, more information about
review, background on industry)

By Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) – The top U.S. nuclear
regulator on Wednesday approved the launch of a safety review
of U.S. nuclear reactors sought by President Barack Obama in
response to the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to create an agency
task force made up of current and former commission experts
that will review the information from the disaster and advise
whether any changes are needed at U.S. nuclear plants.

“We will perform a systematic and methodical review to see
if there are changes that should be made to our programs and
regulations to ensure protection of public health and safety,”
NRC head Gregory Jaczko said in a statement.

For almost two weeks, the Japanese government has struggled
to avert a major meltdown at the Fukushima plant, which lost
power after being battered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a
tsunami. The crisis has raised concerns about the safety of
nuclear plants worldwide. [ID:nL3E7EN2NT]

President Barack Obama last week requested a review of U.S.
nuclear plants while maintaining his support for atomic energy,
which supplies about 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

Companies had been planning their first new additions to
the U.S. nuclear fleet since a 1979 accident at the Three Mile
Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania stopped expansion.

The NRC has been evaluating applications for new
construction licenses from Southern Co (SO.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and SCANA Corp
(SCG.N: Quote, Profile, Research) to build two reactors each.

TWO STAGES FOR REVIEW

In the first stage of its work, the task force will look
into whether any immediate changes are needed to insure the
safety of nuclear plants during emergencies like earthquakes,
hurricanes or power blackouts, and recommend whether any
changes are needed in inspections or licensing reviews.

“The task force efforts should be informed by some
stakeholder input but should be independent of industry
efforts,” Jaczko said in a memo to Bill Borchardt, the head of
operations at the NRC.

The NRC will provide formal reports every 30 days for the
next three months as a part of the first stage, and will hold
four public meetings. The first is scheduled for April 14.

A longer-term, six-month review will take a closer look at
the “sequence of events” at the Japanese plant, and consider
whether the U.S. regulator needs any new rules, weighing input
from the industry.

The safety review was proposed at a meeting on Monday, and
on Wednesday was formally approved by the five commissioners at
the helm of the regulator. [ID:nN21116372]

“The devastation in Japan constitutes an unprecedented
tragedy for that nation,” Commissioner Kristine Svinicki wrote
in voting in favor of the plan.

“We need to keep in mind, however, that this crisis has not
created an emergency in the United States, and the Commission
and the staff should adhere to existing protocols,” she said.
(Editing by Paul Simao and Todd Eastham)

UPDATE 2-US nuclear agency plans safety review of reactors