(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today is the fourth time the Members of this Committee have gathered in this room to discuss nuclear safety following the disaster in Japan.
Since our first briefing, I have asked the NRC to heed the wakeup call and reevaluate the safety and security of nuclear power plants in the United States, especially when faced with extreme natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding.
California’s two nuclear power plants at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre are located in seismically active areas, and I want to repeat that any Task Force recommendations should be adopted and implemented as soon as possible since millions of people live close to those plants.
The NRC has begun to act. First, NRC ordered inspections on the 104 operating nuclear reactors and issued reports on their readiness to address power losses and damage following extreme events. Also, more recently NRC issued the results of its near-term (90 day) Task Force review.
I understand that the six-person Task Force that conducted this review was made up of senior NRC staff with more than 135 years of combined expertise, but they did not rely on their expertise alone. The Task Force also had full access to all NRC experts as they prepared their report.
The Task Force found that “continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety.” That means the Task Force found that no plants needed to be immediately shut-down, but problems were identified.
The Task Force has highlighted some issues that should be addressed now, while further study and analysis is needed before other recommendations can be implemented. Late last month I sent a letter to Chairman Jaczko in which I urged the Commission to act promptly on the near-term Task Force recommendations.
I support the Chairman’s road map for action within 90 days, and encourage the Commission to move forward expeditiously. It took 90 days for the Task Force to make their recommendations. It should not take longer than 90 days for the NRC to accept or reject them and move towards implementation.
The Task Force concluded that “the NRC’s safety approach is incomplete without a strong program for dealing with the unexpected, including severe accidents. Continued reliance on industry initiatives for a fundamental level of defense-in-depth similarly would leave gaps in the NRC regulatory approach.”
These findings are important. Although the Task Force stated that an accident like Japan’s is unlikely to occur in the U.S., they concluded changes should be made to our regulatory system to improve safety. And, they further concluded we cannot count on voluntary industry initiatives to provide the necessary level of safety.
The Japanese were not prepared for the disaster that hit them on March 11th. That is the lesson learned from Fukushima. We cannot afford to make the same mistake. We should make improvements that will enhance safety and preparedness for unforeseen disasters.
To that end, the NRC’s 90 day review includes important recommendations that would improve safety at U.S. nuclear facilities. The NRC should move quickly to implement the safety recommendations contained in the report.
In addition, I believe more work should be done as part of the longer-term review to address moving spent fuel to dry cask storage and other issues that were not fully addressed in the near-term Task Force report.
Today I call on the Commission to announce a plan of action for adopting the Task Force recommendations. And I am not alone in my call for action.
A July 23 editorial in the New York Times stated, “if nuclear power is to have a future in this country, Americans have to have confidence that regulators and the industry are learning the lessons of Fukushima and taking all steps necessary to ensure safety.” …. “This month [the NRC’s near-term Task Force] issued thoughtful and common-sense recommendations. The five commissioners should quickly adopt them.”
A July 17th editorial in Washington Post stated, “the NRC should use this review not merely to respond to a single event but to ensure that it is actively assessing low-probability but high-consequence risks.”
On July 19th, 15 non-governmental organizations including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace sent a letter to the NRC urging them to act expeditiously to implement the recommendations.
And more recently, on July 28th, my colleague, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, was reported as saying, “the bottom line is we cannot let the lessons learned from Fukushima become a forgotten story by dragging our feet on some of these critical short and long-term improvements that can be made now.”
I could not agree more. For both the safety and confidence of the American public, the NRC must act without delay. It is not acceptable now that we have the results of the Task Force review, to merely call for more study, and further delay. I look forward to working with each of you to ensure every appropriate precaution is taken and taken quickly to ensure the safety of the American people and our nuclear facilities.
You must act now that you know what some of the problems are. It is your moral and legal responsibility.