U.S. Senators Want Shuttered Nuclear Plants to Comply with Emergency Rules

Evening sets on the San Onofre atomic power plant in northern San Diego County, Calif. A group of U.S. Senators is asking the Nuclear Regulatory to not exempt the now-shuttered plant -- and others like it -- from emergency planning regulations.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
May 2, 2014, 10:22 a.m.

A group of Sen­ate Demo­crats is ur­ging the U.S. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion to stop ex­empt­ing re­cently shuttered nuc­le­ar power plants from emer­gency-plan­ning and se­cur­ity reg­u­la­tions.

Re­tired nuc­le­ar power plants in the United States still have sig­ni­fic­ant amounts of nuc­le­ar waste at their sites, and likely will for the fore­see­able fu­ture, the sen­at­ors note in a Fri­day let­ter to NRC Chair­wo­man Al­lis­on Mac­far­lane.

The nuc­le­ar com­mis­sion has already ex­emp­ted 10 such plants from emer­gency rules, the sen­at­ors say, and it is ex­pec­ted to con­sider ap­plic­a­tions for sim­il­ar ex­emp­tions from at least four ad­di­tion­al sites in the near fu­ture.

“The melt­downs at Fukushi­ma il­lus­trated the need for such plan­ning [re­quire­ments], with the Ja­pan­ese gov­ern­ment or­der­ing evac­u­ations out to 12 miles and the NRC and oth­er coun­tries re­com­mend­ing evac­u­ation out to 50 miles, in part be­cause of con­cern about Fukushi­ma’s spent nuc­le­ar fuel,” the let­ter states.

“Sim­il­arly, the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to new and strengthened se­cur­ity reg­u­la­tions, and a court de­cision and a [Na­tion­al Academies of Sci­ence] re­port both found that spent fuel pools could not be dis­missed as po­ten­tial tar­gets for ter­ror­ist at­tacks,” ac­cord­ing to the missive.

Sen­at­or Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.), chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, is one of the sig­nat­or­ies to the Fri­day let­ter. Oth­ers in­clude Sen­at­ors Ed­ward Mar­key (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kirsten Gil­librand (D-N.Y.). Sen­at­or Bern­ard Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Sen­ate Demo­crats, also signed the let­ter.

The five sen­at­ors note that the com­mis­sion is cur­rently in the pro­cess of fi­nal­iz­ing a pro­posed “waste con­fid­ence” rule, in which the reg­u­lat­ory body de­clares it has con­fid­ence that nuc­le­ar waste from U.S. power plants will ul­ti­mately be dis­posed of safely, des­pite the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s can­cel­la­tion of the con­tro­ver­sial and long-delayed Yucca Moun­tain pro­ject in Nevada.

Leg­ally, the com­mis­sion must be able to de­clare such con­fid­ence in or­der for it to al­low any nuc­le­ar power plants to op­er­ate. The com­mis­sion has stalled li­cens­ing de­cisions for all new and ex­ist­ing plants un­til it is able to fi­nal­ize the rule, a pri­or ver­sion of which was thrown out by a fed­er­al ap­pel­late court.

In their new let­ter, the sen­at­ors note that in its latest pro­pos­al, the com­mis­sion bases its de­clar­a­tion of waste con­fid­ence “in part on the as­ser­tion that emer­gency pre­pared­ness and se­cur­ity reg­u­la­tions re­main in place dur­ing de­com­mis­sion­ing.” The law­makers are con­cerned that, at the same time, the com­mis­sion is for­go­ing those very reg­u­la­tions at nu­mer­ous de­com­mis­sioned sites.

Mean­while, NRC staff is also re­com­mend­ing that the com­mis­sion not re­quire power plant op­er­at­ors to ac­cel­er­ate the trans­fer of nuc­le­ar waste from spent fuel pools in­to dry cask stor­age. Some ex­perts ar­gue dry cask stor­age is safer, and it would de­crease the pos­sib­il­ity of a cata­stroph­ic ra­dio­act­ive fire in the event of an ac­ci­dent or ter­ror­ist at­tack.

The let­ter iden­ti­fies the re­cently shuttered San Ono­fre Nuc­le­ar Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion, loc­ated near San Diego, as one that the sen­at­ors ex­pect will soon be on the NRC dock­et for pos­sible ex­emp­tion from emer­gency-plan­ning re­quire­ments. The plant closed last year fol­low­ing a con­tro­versy in which South­ern Cali­for­nia Edis­on had ini­tially sought to keep the fa­cil­ity run­ning with de­fect­ive parts.

Box­er earli­er this year threatened to sue the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion for with­hold­ing doc­u­ments re­lated to the San Ono­fre con­tro­versy.

The Fri­day let­ter also iden­ti­fies the Ke­waunee Power Sta­tion near Green Bay, Wis., the Crys­tal River Nuc­le­ar Power Plant near Tampa, Fla., and the Ver­mont Yan­kee Nuc­le­ar Power Sta­tion near Brat­tle­boro, Vt., as the three oth­er sites at which the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion may soon con­sider ex­emp­tions.

What We're Following See More »
OUTLIER OR TREND?
CNN/ORC Poll Shows Big Bounce for Trump
7 minutes ago
THE LATEST

According to a new CNN/ORC poll, Donald Trump emerged from the GOP convention "ahead of Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, topping her 44% to 39% in a four-way matchup including Gary Johnson (9%) and Jill Stein (3%) and by three points in a two-way head-to-head, 48% to 45%. That latter finding represents a 6-point convention bounce for Trump, which are traditionally measured in two-way matchups."

Source:
AVOIDING CLINTON OR PREFERRING TO CAMPAIGN?
Some Dems in Tight Races Elect to Skip Convention
7 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway today in Philadelphia, some prominent Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are nowhere to be found. "At least four candidates in major races are opting out, including Russ Feingold, who is challengingSen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin; Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is taking on Sen. John McCain in Arizona; Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who is running against Sen. Roy Blunt; and Catherine Cortez Masto, who is battling Rep. Joe Heck in Nevada for the seat vacated by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid." The candidates have stated their decisions aren't motivated by a desire to avoid being tied to the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Source:
PRIME TIME ADDRESS
Bloomberg to Endorse Clinton This Week
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton this week in a prime-time speech. "The news is an unexpected move from Mr. Bloomberg, who has not been a member of the Democratic Party since 2000; was elected the mayor of New York City as a Republican; and later became an independent. But it reflects Mr. Bloomberg’s increasing dismay about the rise of Donald J. Trump and a determination to see that the Republican nominee is defeated."

Source:
MOST WILL BE BOUND IN 2020
Democrats Vote Major Changes to Superdelegate System
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Democratic Rules Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a major shift in the superdelegate system Saturday night after a deal was reached between" the Clinton and Sanders camps. "The committee approved nearly unanimously an amendment that preserves the existing superdelegate role for elected U.S. lawmakers and governors, but will bind the remaining superdelegates — roughly two-thirds — to primary and caucus results."

Source:
SHE’LL HAVE A ROLE WITH CLINTON CAMP
Wasserman Schultz to Resign at Week’s End
12 hours ago
THE LATEST

"After hours of private talks," Debbie Wasserman Schultz agreed to step down as chair of the Democratic National Committee after the convention ends. In the wake of the convention intrigue, Hillary Clinton announced she's making Wasserman Schultz "the honorary chair of her campaign's 50-state program."

Source:
×