Senate Bills Aim to Shield Nuclear Power Plant Waste from Sabotage

Evening sets on the now-closed San Onofre atomic power plant near San Diego in 2004. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a statement that legislation she and two other senators introduced Tuesday "will help guarantee that this facility, and others like it, are safely decommissioned and are no longer a liability for local communities."
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
Add to Briefcase
Douglas P. Guarino
May 13, 2014, 10:24 a.m.

Three sen­at­ors on Tues­day in­tro­duced a group of bills aimed at im­prov­ing the safety and se­cur­ity of nuc­le­ar power plants in the event of a nat­ur­al dis­aster or act of sab­ot­age.

One of the bills, in­tro­duced by Sen­at­ors Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.), Ed­ward Mar­key (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would ul­ti­mately force nuc­le­ar power plant op­er­at­ors to ac­cel­er­ate the trans­fer of nuc­le­ar waste stored in spent fuel pools in­to dry cask stor­age units.

Act­iv­ists have long ar­gued that spent fuel pools at many plants are filled bey­ond their ori­gin­ally in­ten­ded ca­pa­city and could cause a cata­stroph­ic ra­dio­act­ive fire in the event of an ac­ci­dent or ter­ror­ist at­tack. Dry cask stor­age units, which some re­act­ors are already us­ing in a lim­ited ca­pa­city, would be safer and more se­cure, watch­dog groups have said.

In­dustry of­fi­cials have down­played the risk, however, and in Novem­ber, Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion staff re­com­men­ded that the five-mem­ber, pres­id­en­tially ap­poin­ted pan­el not re­quire plant op­er­at­ors to ac­cel­er­ate such trans­fers. The le­gis­la­tion sen­at­ors in­tro­duced Tues­day would force the com­mis­sion’s hand and man­date that it cre­ate such a re­quire­ment.

“Stud­ies con­duc­ted by the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences, Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion and in­de­pend­ent ex­perts have shown that par­tial drain­ing of the wa­ter from a spent fuel pool caused by an ac­ci­dent or ter­ror­ist at­tack could res­ult in a spon­tan­eous fire, the re­lease of large quant­it­ies of ra­di­ation and wide­spread con­tam­in­a­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from the sen­at­ors.

“However, NRC reg­u­la­tions al­low spent fuel to re­main stored in spent fuel pools un­til the re­act­or com­pletes de­com­mis­sion­ing, which can take as long as 60 years,” the state­ment con­tin­ues.

The sen­at­ors did not re­lease the bill text by press time, but ac­cord­ing to the re­lease, the le­gis­la­tion “provides fund­ing to help re­act­or li­censees im­ple­ment” the re­quired steps. It is un­clear wheth­er that money would come from funds pre­vi­ously set aside for re­act­or de­com­mis­sion­ing — a pro­spect that is con­tro­ver­sial among nuc­le­ar watch­dog groups who would oth­er­wise likely back the le­gis­la­tion.

While the act­iv­ist groups be­lieve ac­cel­er­ated trans­fer to dry cask stor­age is ne­ces­sary, there is some dis­agree­ment over wheth­er the de­com­mis­sion­ing funds should re­main un­touched in or­der to en­sure ad­equate money re­mains for cleanup after a plant closes.

An­oth­er pro­vi­sion in Tues­day’s le­gis­la­tion would ex­pand — from 10 miles to 50 miles — the size of the emer­gency plan­ning zone around re­act­ors that do not com­ply with the ac­cel­er­ated waste trans­fer plan.

Al­though NRC of­fi­cials urged U.S. cit­izens with­in 50 miles of Ja­pan’s Fukushi­ma plant to evac­u­ate dur­ing the on­set of the dis­aster there in 2011, the com­mis­sion only re­quires U.S. plants to have emer­gency re­sponse plans that cov­er a 10-mile area.

A sep­ar­ate bill in­tro­duced by the same three sen­at­ors on Tues­day would stop the com­mis­sion from is­su­ing ex­emp­tions to its emer­gency re­sponse and se­cur­ity re­quire­ments for those re­act­ors that have per­man­ently shut down.

In a let­ter to NRC Chair­wo­man Al­lis­on Mac­far­lane earli­er this month, the sen­at­ors said the com­mis­sion had already gran­ted such ex­emp­tions to 10 shuttered plants and that it was ex­pec­ted to con­sider do­ing so for four more sites in the near fu­ture.

The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, which Box­er chairs, is ex­pec­ted to host a hear­ing ad­dress­ing de­com­mis­sion­ing is­sues on Wed­nes­day.

What We're Following See More »
PENCE BREAKS THE TIE
Senate Will Debate House Bill
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

By the narrowest of margins, the Senate voted 51-50 this afternoon to begin debate on the House's legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins defected from the GOP, but Vice President Pence broke a tie. Sen. John McCain returned from brain surgery to cast his vote.

Source:
WON’T SAY IF HE’LL FIRE HIM
Trump “Disappointed” in Sessions
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“'It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement,'” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. 'I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.'”

Source:
MURKOWSKI, COLLINS VOTE NAY
Republicans Reach 50 Votes to Proceed on Health Bill
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
INTERVIEWED KUSHNER FOR OVER THREE HOURS
House Russia Probe: Kushner “Satisfied” Questions
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Republicans who interviewed Jared Kushner for more than three hours in the House’s Russia probe on Tuesday said the president’s son-in-law and adviser came across as candid and cooperative. 'His answers were forthcoming and complete. He satisfied all my questions,' said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who’s leading the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign."

Source:
VICTORY FOR GUN RIGHTS ADVOCATES
Appeals Court Block D.C. Gun Control Law
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday blocked a gun regulation in Washington, D.C., that limited the right to carry a handgun in public to those with a special need for self-defense, handing a victory to gun rights advocates. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit's 2-1 ruling struck down the local government's third major attempt in 40 years to limit handgun rights, citing what it said was scant but clear guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court on the right to bear arms."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login