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“Oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Wednesday October 7, 2015, 09:15 AM, EST 406 Dirksen
Ranking Member Barbara Boxer
Boxer: “Not one of the 12 task force recommendations has been fully implemented, and I think we have a chart that shows this. Many of the recommendations still have no timeline for action. I am also concerned with some of the decisions NRC is making on whether to implement important safety enhancements.
For example, the Commission overruled staff safety recommendations. They overruled their staff and voted not to move forward with multiple safety improvements. By a 3 to 1 vote, the Commission decided to remove a requirement that nuclear plants have procedures in place for dealing with severe accidents.
What is wrong? How can we vote that way? How does this make any sense?
This requirement was identified in the aftermath of Fukushima, but, after years of work, the Commission chose not to move forward. This is unacceptable.
The Commission, in my view, is not living up to its own mission, which I always read to you to instill in you this burning desire for safety. This is your mission: “To ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes, while protecting people and the environment.” That is your goal. Not to build new nuclear plants as fast as you can, or walk away from your own ideas on how to make plants safer.
We need to look no further than the two nuclear power plants in my State. At California’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant, NRC has repeated declared the plant safe, even after learning of a strong earthquake fault near the plant, which wasn’t known about when the plant was approved. If you asked the average person on the street, I don’t care if they are Republican, a Democrat, a liberal, a conservative, or anything in between, do you think you ought to build a nuclear power plant near a really big earthquake fault, I think they would say no. And I don’t think they would need a degree in nuclear science to get the fact that that is not safe. So when you hear of a new fault, and for you not to take any action is very shocking to me.
At the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego, which has closed permanently, the NRC recently issued exemptions to emergency planning requirements. We still have a lot of nuclear waste there. There are so many millions of people who live around that plant.” (From actual transcript, emphasis our own): http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/e61a810c-b226-4a6e-908c-790d57d2fed8/spw-100715.pdf
Opening Statement of Ranking Member Barbara Boxer
EPW Hearing on “Oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” October 7, 2015 (Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee is holding an oversight hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). I remain concerned about the slow pace at which the NRC is implementing measures intended to protect American nuclear plants in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns that occurred in Japan in March 2011.
It has been more than four years since the Fukushima disaster, and Japan continues to face challenges in its cleanup efforts.
Only one of Japan’s 43 nuclear reactors has been turned back on since the Fukushima disaster. A recent analysis by Reuters found that of the other 42 operable nuclear reactors in Japan, only seven are likely to be turned on in the next few years. Reuters also found that “nine reactors are unlikely to ever restart and that the fate of the remaining 26 looks uncertain.”
For the last four years, I have been saying that in order to earn the confidence of the public, we must learn from the Fukushima disaster and do everything we can to avoid similar disasters here in the U.S.
Following the last NRC oversight hearing in April, I met with Chairman Burns to discuss the commission’s progress on implementation of the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force recommendations. I appreciate the letter he sent me after our meeting outlining the status of the commission’s work and anticipated timelines for completing each of the recommendations.
While I recognize that progress has been made on some of the recommendations of the Post-Fukushima Task Force, I am frustrated and disappointed with the overall slow pace. Not one of the 12 task force recommendations has been fully implemented. And many of the recommendations still have no timeline for action.
I am also concerned with some of the decisions the NRC is making on whether to implement important safety enhancements.
In particular, I am troubled that the Commission overruled staff safety recommendations and voted not to move forward with multiple safety improvements. For example, by a 3 to 1 vote, the Commission decided to remove a requirement that nuclear plants have procedures in place for dealing with severe accidents, like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. These procedures ensure plans are in place when multiple failures of safety equipment occur or other unanticipated events take place.
This requirement was identified in the aftermath of Fukushima, but after years of work on this and other proposals, the Commission simply chose not to move forward. That is unacceptable.
The Commission does not appear to be doing all it can to live up to the NRC’s mission “to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment.”
We need to look no further than the two nuclear power plants in my home state. At California’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant, NRC has repeatedly declared the plant safe even after learning of a strong earthquake fault near the plant.
At the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County, which has been closed permanently, the NRC recently issued exemptions to emergency planning requirements. The plant’s operator will no longer be required to maintain detailed plans for the evacuation, sheltering, and medical treatment of people residing in the 10-mile zone around the plant.
I am aware that the NRC is planning a rulemaking on decommissioning issues, but rubber stamping exemptions the way the Commission has is the wrong approach. I believe it is wrong to relax emergency planning requirements with thousands of tons of extremely radioactive spent fuel remaining at the site. The millions of people living in close proximity to the plant deserve better.
The NRC owes it to the citizens of California and the nation to make safety the highest priority and I urge all the Commissioners to refocus your efforts to do just that.
I look forward to discussing these issues with you today.
Transcript of Hearing: http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=E61A810C-B226-4A6E-908C-790D57D2FED8