"Oversight Hearing: NRC's Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century"
September 12, 2012
Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee is holding its seventh oversight meeting on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan in March 2011. The consequences of the terrible events in Japan have prompted us to rethink how to ensure safety at the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States.
Last year, the NRC created a Task Force to review our nation's safety requirements, and that Task Force made 12 recommendations to help prevent a similar disaster at nuclear facilities in the U.S.
Earlier this year, the NRC sent three orders to nuclear plants requiring high-priority safety improvements: the acquisition and protection of emergency equipment, better monitoring of spent fuel pools, and improved venting at boiling water reactors to help maintain containment in the case of an emergency.
The NRC also directed nuclear plants to take other actions, including reanalyzing earthquake and flooding risks and reassessing their ability to safely operate following such events. In addition, the Commission issued two notices of proposed rulemaking: one concerning steps that plants should take if they lose electric power, and the other on ways to improve nuclear plants' emergency procedures.
While on the one hand I am encouraged that the NRC has begun moving forward, I also have concerns that the Commission is allowing some nuclear plants to delay implementing safety improvements beyond the recommended five-year period. Public safety of nuclear facilities must be the NRC's top priority, and I call on this Commission to ensure that the recommended improvements are put in place within the next five years. I intend to continue this Committee's oversight to make certain that these safety upgrades are completed without delay.
I also want to talk about an urgent matter in my home State of California. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is located near San Clemente, and 8.7 million people live within 50 miles of the site. This nuclear plant, which is currently offline, has experienced unexpected deterioration with the tubes that carry radioactive water in the plant's new steam generators. This situation could pose a health and safety risk, because if those tubes leak or rupture, they could release radiation at levels that exceed safety standards.
I am pleased that the NRC has undertaken an investigation regarding the problems at San Onofre. Today, I want to make certain that the Commission continues to pay serious attention to this nuclear facility. Let me be clear - it is the NRC's duty to ensure that the appropriate actions are taken to address safety concerns related to the compromised tubes before San Onofre's reactors are permitted to go back online. The San Onofre reactors must not be restarted until the NRC's investigation is completed and the public has been assured of the plant's safety.
The NRC was created "to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials . . . while protecting people and the environment," and the millions of people who live near San Onofre deserve to have peace of mind that the reactors are safe and pose no health risk to their families. It is critical that the NRC conduct its investigation at San Onofre in an open and transparent way, and I am pleased that the Commission has scheduled a public meeting in California in October. Today I want assurances that this meeting is on track.
I also want to remind the Commissioners sitting here today about their commitment to me that the NRC will determine whether Southern California Edison was in full compliance with the regulations regarding the redesigned steam generators. We also need to evaluate whether the NRC regulations should be changed to avoid a similar situation in the future.
I will continue to work with the NRC to ensure safety issues at San Onofre and the other nuclear plants across the nation, and I look forward to hearing from the Commissioners about the progress that has been made to implement safety changes resulting from the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster.
Before turning to Ranking Member Inhofe for his opening statement, I would like to welcome Dr. Allison Macfarlane, who is testifying before this committee for the first time as the new NRC Chairman.