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Stabilizing seen at crippled Japan plant

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday that containment at three reactors at Japan's crippled nuclear complex is currently intact and the situation at the plant appears to be stabilizing.

The commission met to get an update from staff on the ongoing crisis in Japan and devise a plan to meet President Barack Obama's call for a comprehensive safety review at the 104 U.S. nuclear reactors.

Bill Borchardt, the commission's executive director for operations, said that units 1, 2 and 3 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have some core damage but that containment for those three reactors is not currently breached.

"I would say optimistically that things appear to be on the verge of stabilizing," Borchardt said.

Borchardt defended the agency's decision not close some older nuclear plants, as Germany did.

"Are we less prudent than the Germans?" asked Commissioner George Apostolakis.

Borchardt said officials have "asked ourselves every day" since the tsunami whether U.S. plants should be shut down. "I am 100 percent certain that we have sufficient basis to conclude that U.S. plants continue to operate safely," he said.

Borchardt also defended the commission's recommendation that U.S. citizens stay at least 50 miles away from the troubled Fukushima plant. Current U.S. guidelines call for a 10-mile evacuation zone around all U.S. nuclear plants, and some critics have suggested that the NRC was imposing a stricter standard on Japan than on U.S. nuclear reactors.

Borchardt said the recommendation was made based on conditions at the plant, adding that if the same conditions occurred in the United States, "we would have done the same analysis and gone through the same thought process to consider extending the evacuation zone or whatever protective measures we thought were appropriate."

NRC staff members are in Tokyo conferring with Japanese government and industry officials on the disaster.

The five-member commission was expected to vote later Monday on a 90-day review of nuclear operations in the United States.


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