U.S. Senate Examines Nuclear Plant Safety

The five members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified on Wednesday before a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works full committee and the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee. Led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, the oversight hearing discussed the NRC’s efforts to implement recommendations to enhance the nation’s nuclear reactor safety.

Members of the subcommittee sought assurances that the NRC is dedicated to do everything in its power to ensure what happened in Japan at Fukushima Daiichi never happens in the United States.

“This is a breakthrough for us because it just underscores our commitment to the work,” Boxer said.

At the moment, the NRC has halted the issuance of licenses for the construction of new nuclear reactors and the renewal of existing plant licenses until it can clarify its rules on nuclear waste storage. That decision came in response to a June ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that vacated the NRC’s waste-confidence decision and the storage rule.

NRC Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane testified that the agency has established a three-tiered system defining which actions can and should be taken immediately; which issues require more staff and information; and which issues require further study or possibly short-term actions in the interim.

Macfarlane, testifying for the first time as head of the NRC, said she believes U.S. nuclear plants are currently safe, but the NRC’s examination of Fukushima Daiichi led it to determine that “additional requirements should be imposed on licensees to increase the capability of nuclear power plants to mitigate the effects of beyond-design-basis extreme natural phenomena.”

Watch the hearing and read prepared remarks.