Statement of Ranking Member Barbara Boxer
"Oversight Hearing: The President's FY 2016 Budget Request for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission"
April 15, 2015
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing on the budget request for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), fee recovery, and management issues.
Among the management issues I wish to explore today are 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 in Japan in March 2011. I'd be interested in the Commission's views about the reason for this slow pace, including budgetary constraints.
I welcome the new NRC Chairman, Steve Burns, as well as our other new Commissioner, Jeff Baran, to the Committee. It has been more than four years since the Fukushima disaster, and Japan has not been able to make sufficient progress in its cleanup efforts. Tens of thousands of refugees still remain barred from their former homes, and there remains no solution for how to dispose of the massive volumes of radioactive water accumulating at the plant.
Recently, the chief of the Fukushima power plant admitted that the decommissioning process could take 200 years, that they had no idea what the conditions inside the reactors are because they are still too radioactive to examine, and that the technology needed to do the job does not even exist.
Just yesterday, a court in Japan sided with residents concerned about seismic safety when it prevented the re-start of two Japanese reactors that have been shut down since the Fukushima disaster.
The only way that nuclear energy can remain a vibrant part of our energy mix is if it has the confidence of the public. I have been saying for four years that in order to earn that confidence, we must learn from the Fukushima disaster and do everything we can to avoid something similar happening here in the U.S. Unfortunately, the reality is that not a single one of the 12 key safety recommendations made by the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force has been implemented at nuclear reactors in this country.
Some reactor operators are still not in compliance with the safety requirements that were in place before the Fukushima disaster happened. The NRC has only completed its own action on four of the 12 Task Force recommendations.
I remain concerned that the Commission is not doing all that 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 look no further than California's Diablo Canyon Power Plant to see that the NRC has failed to live up to its mission. I would like to place in the record a news article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 7, 2015, entitled: "PG&E overlooked key seismic test at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant."
While the NRC's Fukushima Task Force recommended that all reactors be protected against the strongest earthquakes they were likely to face, the NRC seems to have gone out of its way to do the exact opposite at Diablo Canyon.
Even after learning of newly-discovered strong earthquake faults close to the power plant, the NRC dismissed its senior inspector's recommendation that the reactor be shut down if it did not come back into compliance with its seismic licensing requirements.
Even after NRC learned that PG&E, which owns and operates Diablo Canyon, repeatedly failed to properly analyze earthquake risks when it replaced its steam generators and other major reactor equipment, NRC has not acted aggressively to enforce its own safety regulations.
And even when PG&E's own seismic analysis found an even more severe earthquake risk than was previously known, NRC still pronounced the reactor to be safe without even taking the time it needed to analyze these newly disclosed risks. In fact, I have learned that NRC drafted its press materials saying that its review of PG&E's seismic study said that the plant remained "safe to operate" weeks before PG&E even submitted the study to NRC in the first place.
I plan to raise these and other issues with you today, including the Commission's continued failure to provide me with documents I have requested.