Today, we are holding our tenth hearing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in Japan three and a half years ago.
Japan is still struggling to recover at the accident site, as efforts to build a giant underground ice wall to stop radioactive water from flowing into the sea recently failed. It will take years and tens of billions of dollars to clean up.
Children in Japan are forced to play in new indoor playgrounds, because playing outdoors is still too dangerous in some locations. The Fukushima disaster is a warning to us that we must do more to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants here in the United States.
But I am 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."
Although Chairman Macfarlane said when she announced her resignation that she had ensured "that the agency implemented lessons learned from the tragic accident at Fukushima Daiichi so that the American people can be confident that such an accident will never take place here," 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. And the NRC has only completed its own action on 4 of the 12 Task Force recommendations.
Further, I recently learned that NRC has joined forces with Russia to block a European proposal requiring nuclear reactors to be retrofitted to ensure that they can be protected against severe earthquakes or other natural disasters.
The sad irony here is obvious - the U.S. NRC joining with Russia - the country that brought us Chernobyl.
Plus, the NRC is apparently acting to block a European proposal to require reactor safety upgrades worldwide. This is unacceptable.
The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that the Fukushima meltdowns resulted because the power plant's operator failed to protect the reactors' key safety equipment from flooding, even though the large tsunami risk for the plant was well known.The National Academy went on to recommend that nuclear reactor operators act quickly to protect reactors from newly-discovered risks, a recommendation also made in the NRC's own expert post-Fukushima report.
NRC's failure to heed these experts' warnings is especially relevant at California's Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
Even after learning of newly-discovered strong earthquake faults close to the power plant, the NRC has declined to act on its senior inspector's warning that the reactor should be shut down if it did not come back into compliance with its seismic licensing requirements.
An examination of NRC and PG&E documents provides evidence that the Diablo Canyon reactor operator also failed to comply with NRC's safety regulations when it replaced its steam generators and other key reactor equipment without doing the analysis required to show that the new equipment could meet seismic safety standards.
Approximately 500,000 people live and work near this power plant, and it is my responsibility and yours to protect them.
The Commission must make safety the highest priority.
I have many other matters I want to discuss with you today, including the Commission's continued failure to provide me with documents I have requested. I look forward to discussing these issues with you at today's hearing.