Senators Markey, Boxer and Sanders Call for Increased Safety at Nuclear Plants

Trio of federal bills address safety of spent fuel storage and decommissioning plans

See also: Massachusetts: Nuclear bills to support in 2015

Washington (April 15, 2015) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reintroduced three bills today aimed at improving the safety and security of decommissioning reactors and the storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear plants across the nation.

When spent nuclear fuel is removed from the part of the reactor that generates electricity, it continues to produce significant quantities of heat and radiation for years.  Spent nuclear fuel is too dangerous to be removed from the spent fuel pools for five to seven years.  Studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) 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.  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. Current NRC regulations also allow the NRC and the nuclear plant operator to adopt a decommissioning plan without considering the concerns of nearby states and communities. The three bills introduced today will address all of these problems.

“An accident at an overstuffed spent fuel pool like the one at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Massachusetts would be as disastrous as an accident at an operating nuclear reactor,” said Senator Markey, top Democrat on the Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee. “ Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool contains nearly four times more radioactive waste than it was originally designed to hold. We need to ensure dangerous nuclear waste is moved to safer storage before a nuclear disaster occurs.”

“In my home state of California, the San Onofre nuclear plant closed permanently,” said Senator Boxer, Ranking Member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). “Our legislation will ensure that the San Onofre facility, and others like it across the nation, are safely decommissioned and that the surrounding communities are protected.”

“Currently a nuclear plant operator could adopt a decommissioning plan that ignores the needs and interests of the public and the state would have no recourse,” said Senator Sanders. “That is fundamentally unfair and unreasonable. This is simply about ensuring that states have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in a decision that has enormous economic, environmental and community impacts.”

Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2015 (Boxer, Sanders, Markey)

The Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from issuing exemptions from its emergency response or security requirements for spent fuel stored at nuclear reactors that have permanently shut down until all of the spent nuclear fuel stored at the site has been moved into dry casks, which are a more secure and safe option for storage. NRC has determined that earthquakes would be the most likely cause of a spent fuel pool failure that could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination, but has granted every request from emergency response requirements that it has ever received from a licensee of a decommissioning reactor.

Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2015 (Sanders, Boxer, Markey)

The Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act would ensure that states and local communities have a meaningful role in the crafting and preparation of decommissioning plans for retired nuclear plants located in those areas.  The bill also requires NRC to publicly and transparently approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan, which it currently is not required to do.

Dry Cask Storage Act of 2015 (Markey, Boxer, Sanders)

The Dry Cask Storage Act would ensure that every nuclear reactor operator complies with an NRC-approved plan that would require the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pools and place that spent fuel into dry cask storage within 7 years of the time the plan is submitted to the NRC.  The legislation also provides funding to help reactor licensees implement the plans and expands the emergency planning zone for non-compliant reactor operators to 50 miles.

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