Statement of Chairman Barbara Boxer
“Lessons from Fukushima One Year Later:
NRC’s Implementation of Recommendations for
Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century”
March 15, 2012
A year ago this week in Japan, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of the Japan, triggering a tsunami that is reported to have reached up to 45 feet high and stretched up to six miles inland.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant was hit hard -- it lost power, multiple hydrogen gas explosions tore apart reactor buildings, containment structures were damaged, three nuclear reactors melted down, and radiation poured out into the environment.
People’s lives were uprooted by evacuations to avoid the threat of radiation poisoning. Many of these men, women, and children have yet to return to their homes -- some may never go back. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan and the victims of this catastrophe.
The purpose of this hearing is to conduct oversight on the NRC’s efforts to ensure that the 104 nuclear reactors in our nation are operating safely and that these plants are swiftly implementing the lessons learned from the disaster in Japan.
I would like to take a moment to discuss a safety issue concerning the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California. After I learned of increased deterioration of tubes that carry radioactive water in the plant’s steam generators, I wrote to the NRC and Southern California Edison and asked for focus on resolving this safety issue. If these tubes rupture, radiation could be released at levels that exceed safety standards.
Today, the NRC announced that it is flying out a special investigation team to conduct a more intensive evaluation of the plant – and I say thank you.
It is critical that the NRC thoroughly review all of the safety implications of this problem, that the public is assured the plant can operate safely before it is restarted, and that the NRC keeps me up to date on its investigation.
Today is the sixth time after the events in Japan that Members of this Committee have gathered to conduct oversight on the NRC.
In late March 2011, the NRC created a Task Force to review our safety requirements in light of the events in Japan. In July 2011, the Task Force made 12 safety recommendations to help prevent and reduce the impacts of such a disaster in the United States.
The NRC staff prioritized these recommendations and said that several should be implemented without delay.
On Monday, the NRC sent three orders requiring these high-priority safety improvements at domestic nuclear power plants.
The first order requires plants to better protect safety equipment needed to address emergencies and to have enough equipment to address an emergency that hits all reactors at a plant.
The second order requires plants to install enhanced equipment to better monitor the conditions in spent fuel pools.
The third order requires the 31 boiling-water reactors in the United States, which are similar to the Fukushima plant, to improve or install venting systems that help to maintain safe conditions within the plants.
The NRC also directed nuclear power plants to re-analyze earthquake and flooding risks, assess their ability to safely operate following such events, and to evaluate their capacity to communicate with a prolonged loss of power and to address emergencies at more than one reactor.
The NRC has said that it will also issue two notices of proposed rulemakings in March and April on steps to take if plants lose electric power and to improve emergency procedures.
I am very encouraged that the NRC has moved forward -- it shows the public that the NRC is acting on the information gathered since the Fukushima disaster.
However, I am concerned about the timelines for requiring plants to meet these safety standards.
The Commission asked the NRC staff to “strive to complete and implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident within five years -- by 2016.” However, some of the proposed timelines allow plants to avoid meeting needed safety improvement for longer than 5 years. I will have questions for the Commissioners on this issue.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 120 million people live within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor, including more than 9 million people in my state of California.
The NRC’s mission is to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials while protecting people and the environment. People who live near a plant should not have to wait one day longer than is necessary for a plant to make needed safety improvements.
As Chairman of this Committee, I will continue to hold oversight hearings to ensure that the NRC fully implements the Task Force’s safety recommendations and requires that all nuclear plants meet the highest levels of safety to protect the public.