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Nuclear industry vows that lessons from Japan will make reactors 'even safer'

Two days after the earthquake and tsunami pushed Japan into a nuclear emergency, the leading trade and lobbying group for the worldwide nuclear power industry has outlined its position on the future of nuclear energy: “When we fully understand the facts surrounding the event in Japan, we will use those insights to make nuclear energy even safer.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute posted 19 questions and answers on Sunday, apparently intended to reassure the public, the financial markets and legislators that "public support for nuclear power should not decline dramatically.”

Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

An official in protective gear scans for signs of radiation on a man from the evacuation area near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Koriyama, Japan, on Saturday.

Highlights:

• "It is premature to draw conclusions from the tragedy in Japan about the U.S. nuclear energy program. Japan is facing what literally can be considered a ‘worst case’ disaster and, so far, even the most seriously damaged of its 54 reactors has not released radiation at levels that would harm the public. That is a testament to their rugged design and construction, and the effectiveness of their employees and the industry’s emergency preparedness planning.”

• “The U.S. nuclear industry, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, the World Association of Nuclear Operators and other expert organizations in the United States and around the world will conduct detailed reviews of the accident, identify lessons learned (both in terms of plant operation and design), and we will incorporate those lessons learned into the design and operation of U.S. nuclear power plants.”

• “The nuclear energy industry believes that existing seismic design criteria are adequate. Every U.S. nuclear power plant has an in-depth seismic analysis and is designed and constructed to withstand the maximum projected earthquake that could occur in its area without any breach of safety systems. Each reactor is built to withstand the maximum site-specific earthquake by utilizing reinforced concrete and other specialized materials.″

• “Given the safety record in this country, the robust regulatory infrastructure, the defense in depth that governs operations and designs, and the seismological differences between the U.S. and Japan, we believe that public support for nuclear power should not decline dramatically. The events at Fukushima Daiichi show that nuclear power’s defense-in-depth approach to safety is appropriate and strong. Despite one of the largest earthquakes in world history, with accompanying tsunamis, fires and aftershocks — multiple disasters compounded one on top of the other — the primary containments at reactors near the epicenter have not been breached and the radioactive release has been minimal and controlled. This event will show that even under very severe circumstances, nuclear power plants are designed to withstand natural disasters.″

The statement by the NEI confirmed msnbc.com's report on Sunday that 23 of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States are similar to those at Fukushima: General Electric-designed boiling-water reactors with the GE Mark I containment design.  As that report describes, General Electric is a parent company of msnbc.com through GE's 49 percent stake in NBCUniversal. NBCUniversal and Microsoft are equal partners in msnbc.com.

The full statement by the NEI is here. The Washington group says it represents nearly 350 nuclear power companies in 19 countries.

If you have information to share with a reporter about the design and operation of nuclear reactors, use the links below. And the discussion forum below is open.

Here are two related reports from Reuters: Analysis: Nuclear renaissance could fizzle after Japan quake, and Japan nuclear woes cast shadow over U.S. energy policy.