WASHINGTON — Soviet nuclear safety specialists, after touring several U.S. nuclear facilities, Monday praised American safety procedures and said their own standards must be brought up to the U.S. level.
Alexander Leonidovich Lapshin, deputy minister for atomic power and head of the delegation, said the tour impressed the Soviet experts that officials at U.S. facilities study potential problems and ways to prevent them--a practice known as "probabilistic risk assessment."
"We also do probabilistic risk assessment," Lapshin told a news conference, "but we have become convinced we must . . . bring it up to the level in the United States."
The 13-member Soviet delegation spent two weeks visiting U.S. installations, including Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, site of a 1979 reactor meltdown, the worst nuclear power accident in the United States. The group also visited the Electric Power Research Institute near San Francisco, the LaSalle plant in Illinois and the McGuire plant in North Carolina.
Lando W. Zech Jr., chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the trip was a "reciprocal visit" following a U.S. delegation's visit to the Soviet Union last March.
U.S. and Soviet officials said the visits could lead to exchanges of information that can help prevent nuclear accidents, such as the Three Mile Island accident and the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine last year.
"We have gained some very painful experiences--both sides," Lapshin said. "This will certainly motivate us to avoid any such incidents in the future."
The Soviet Union was criticized for withholding details on the Chernobyl reactor accident, which produced a cloud of radiation that raised levels in distant parts of the globe.
Zech described talks during the visit as "very candid, very open."
He said that "the most significant part of this exchange has been the emphasis on the fact that our accident is their accident; their accident is our accident. Around the world I think other nations feel the same way."
Officials from the two countries are scheduled to meet again next March in Washington. Lapshin said that between now and then, Soviet officials will try to get some "definition of possible cooperation" on nuclear plant safety--including the areas of design, construction and operation of power plants.
U.S. officials said such cooperation would be initiated after consultation among several U.S. agencies, including the NRC and the State, Energy and Commerce departments.
The places that the Soviet experts visited were selected to give them a wide sample of plant types, U.S. officials added.
Other sites they visited included Bechtel Corp. in San Francisco; Westinghouse Electric Corp. near Pittsburgh, Pa.; Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and a regional office of the NRC in Atlanta.