Sanders Proposes Strengthening Nuclear Power Plant Safety

WASHINGTON, March 28- On the anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, Senator Bernie Sanders today introduced legislation to provide for independent safety assessments before nuclear power plants may boost output or extend operating licenses.

"In an era of aging reactors being pushed past old limits to produce more and more power, the public deserves to know that safety is the single most important priority at nuclear power plants," Sanders said on the anniversary of the

WASHINGTON, March 28- On the anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, Senator Bernie Sanders today introduced legislation to provide for independent safety assessments before nuclear power plants may boost output or extend operating licenses. "In an era of aging reactors being pushed past old limits to produce more and more power, the public deserves to know that safety is the single most important priority at nuclear power plants," Sanders said on the anniversary of the 1979 partial reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island near Middletown, Pa. "People who live near Vermont Yankee and near reactors all over the country are entitled to know that everything humanly possible is being done to make certain there will never be another Three Mile Island." Sanders' legislation would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct an independent safety assessment when utilities apply to extend licenses for aging plants. The special study could be undertaken at the request of the governor of a state where a plant is located, or by the governor of a neighboring state affected by a plant's operation. State utility regulators also could seek an independent review. Safety reviews also could be requested when electric companies propose to generate more power than a reactor was originally designed to produce. Also under the legislation, a history of safety problems that put the public at risk could trigger a review. The independent review teams would be made up of Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors from outside the regional office responsible for the day-to-day scrutiny of a particular plant. The independent inspectors also would include outside experts and representatives appointed by a governor who requested a review or the state Public Utility Commission that sought the review. The inspection team would issue a written report on its findings that would be available for public comment and presented to the NRC before commissioners decide whether to extend a license or allow an increase in power output beyond the maximum level a plant originally was licensed to generate. There are 104 licensed commercial nuclear power plants in the United States which generate about 20 percent of the electricity used nationwide. Although no new plants have been built in decades, energy companies began in the 1970s to seek permission to increase power output. In all, the federal agency that regulates the atomic energy industry has approved 112 so-called uprates at nuclear reactors, including a decision last year to allow a 20 percent boost in generating capacity at Vermont Yankee at Vernon. Another nine applications are pending. New Orleans-based Entergy Nuclear, the company which operates Vermont Yankee, also has an application pending to extend the plant's operating license, which expires in 2012. It wants approval to operate for an additional 20 years.To learn more about the three mile island incident visit the NRC website - http://www.nrc.gov/