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.