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Senators Want Safety Review of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

3 years ago
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Democratic senators sounded the alarm Wednesday on U.S. nuclear power plants, saying safety issues must be reviewed in light of the reactor disaster unfolding in Japan.

"We've got an inferno in front of us and we have to make sure that we do whatever we can to stop it," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

Lautenberg's comment was directed at Gregory Jaczko, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who told the panel that "we want to get good facts" regarding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which is threatened by reactor core meltdowns following last week's 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis. Once those facts are known, Jaczko said, the commission will make "good, credible, reliable decisions" -- but, he warned "that may take a bit of time."

That didn't placate Sen. Barbara Boxer, the panel's chairwoman whose state, California, is earthquake prone and home to several nuclear power plants proximate to geological fault lines. "I don't hear anything proactive, and I worry about that," she said, according to the Hill's report on the hearing.

Despite the crisis in Japan, the Obama administration believes nuclear power must be a key part of U.S. energy policy. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Capitol Hill this week that new nuclear plants are much needed, the Washington Post reported. President Obama's 2012 budget calls for $36 billion in loan guarantees as seed money for such endeavors.

Also at Wednesday's Senate hearing, Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists warned that the U.S. nuclear regulatory system "is not clearly superior to that of the Japanese. We have had extreme weather events that exceeded our expectations and defeated our emergency planning measures (Katrina)."

He noted that his organization is "neither pro nor anti-nuclear power, but has served as a nuclear power safety and security watchdog for over 40 years." As such, he told the senators that "it is incumbent on you to thoroughly investigate whether the risk of an American Fukushima is really as low as the NRC and the industry claim. . . . It is not premature to immediately take steps to reduce vulnerabilities that have long been known by regulators but have not been addressed."

A new poll from USA Today/Gallup shows 70 percent of those surveyed now have a greater concern about the chances of a U.S. nuclear disaster occurring than they did before the situation in Japan; 39 percent of respondents are "a lot more concerned."

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14 Comments

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tistolaugh

Here's a safety review. If we have earthquakes the size of the ones that hit Japan, we are in the same danger. Duh.

March 19 2011 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
punnster

I'm more concerned with the disposition of all the nuclear waste from all those facilities. I wish we could park it all in an orbit opposite from earth. In a few million years when our sun starts to die they could push it into the sun to jump start it.

March 19 2011 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Yes, let's ignore the budget crisis and start a study to determine how many of our nuclear plants are located in Tsunami zones.

March 18 2011 at 1:00 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
trmnatr2

The 40+ y.o. plants have old technology that will be updated.There has to be a way to shut down the reaction in a reasonably short time,isolate the fuel rods,and address any safety issues.New plants obviously shouldn't be built within 5 miles of oceans,near earthquake faults,and avoid highly populated areas.We will learn alot from Japans misfortunes and correct the mistakes.Nuke plants can be made extremely safe.

March 17 2011 at 5:26 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
inasctg56

The News Hour reported that many of our nuclear plants were built to perform for 40 years and they are past that point, as well as running at 120% capacity. I think a review is in order. The EPA is also addressing the mercury in our air and water that contributes to cancer created from burning coal. Again - the gop took away any power the EPA had when Bush took office so corporations could make record profits and not update their plants. Just before Bush took office the EPA and the electric companies in Florida worked together for them to update a plant and the ceo of the electric company admitted that it was a win win situation. But when the epa tried to work with other electric plants for updating - their authority was removed by the Bush administration. So now ten years later, we are still trying to address this.

March 17 2011 at 12:48 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
inasctg56

THere is so much to be addressed and cleaned up after Bush's and the gop's less govt policies for the last decade. In 2004 gop legislation exempted halliburton from all clean water acts that have to do with natural gas infraction and the use of chemicals that are polluting wells and waterways in PA and elsewhere. So who do you think is left paying for cleanup? The taxpayers while halliburton walks away with record profits. I wish legislation could be passed that only gop supporters taxes were used for this stuff instead of everyones taxes.

March 17 2011 at 12:43 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
Brad Naksuthin

Will someone explain to me why, if nuclear power plants are such a good deal, does the US government have to step in and subsidies them and give loan guarantees in order for them to be built.
Why are taxpayers being asked to fund a private profit making enterprise.
If taxpayer money is going to build these plants, shouldn't taxpayers get to vote on the level of safety, the operation of the plant, it's placement, what kind of backup system is being installed, the level of earthquake and terrorist resistance?
The bigger question: if nuclear power depends on the welfare of the taxpayers shouldn't we be looking at cutting our support for them in these tough economic times.
If we have to spend 3-5 billion dollars on one nuclear plant maybe we should put it alongside education, infrastructure, and all the other things getting cut and see which ones the voters really want to invest in

March 17 2011 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Brad Naksuthin's comment
bayleon02

I'll just use this analogy, say that once in every 100,000 times when you turn on a light switch, you know you will be electrocuted, do you still gamble and switch it on? My point being, though problems with nuclear reactors are not common, they still occur; and often enough that at least three major disasters have happened in my life time. I think we need to think long and hard about how many of these facilities we want in our country. Something that we can't predict always eventually happens. Why not look more seriously at solar and wind energy, for example?

March 17 2011 at 12:08 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bayleon02's comment
Josh

Don't build it next to a fault. Problem solved.

March 17 2011 at 12:24 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Josh's comment
ilenedan2

Or next to the ocean where a tsunami from another area could affect it. Sadly, it appears most ARE built next to the coast and many are along fault lines and built to only a 6.0 or 7.0 quake standard, or less; spent fuel is currently sometimes stored even less securely than in Japan, so now what?

March 17 2011 at 1:24 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down
hncckdv

We should check them out to be sure they are as safe as possible.

March 17 2011 at 11:02 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

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