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Nuclear regulation needs improvement

View of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in north San Diego County on March 15, 2011.

Jeremy Hobson: To the nuclear disaster in Japan now. The country's nuclear safety agency this morning raised the level of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi from a 4 to a 5 on an international scale of 7. U.S. officials meanwhile are worried about the safety of reactors in this country. And a new report finds the government could do a lot more to enforce regulations.

From Washington, Marketplace's David Gura reports.


David Gura: The Union of Concerned Scientists looked at the 14 "significant incidents" that occurred at U.S. reactors in 2010. David Wright directs its global security program.

David Wright: If there's a common theme among last year's near misses, it's that none would've happened had prior warning flags been heeded, rather than discounted or ignored.

There was flooding and equipment failure, a fire at a facility in Virginia. The nonprofit estimates the government audits only a small percentage of what happens at nuclear plants every year. Roger Hannah is a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Roger Hannah: It would certainly be a true statement to say that we don't look at 100 percent of the activities at any nuclear plant, but we do take a very broad cross-section of those activities.

Reactors are complex, Hannah says, and the commission has "a limited number of staff and a limited number of resources."

There were some success stories in the report. According to David Wright, persistent regulators staved off serious problems at three power plants, and in those 14 incidents, no one was harmed.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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