"I would hope the people of Vermont would have confidence in the NRC," Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein told Senator Bernie Sanders at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. "They don't," Sanders interjected. Seated before a dramatic photograph of a cooling tower that collapsed on August 21 at the power plant in Vernon, Vt., the senator also mentioned a recent reactor shutdown at Vermont Yankee. "It does cause people to have concern," the NRC chairman allowed. Sanders said the recent events at Vermont Yankee underscore the need for legislation to provide for independent safety assessments when utilities seek to extend licenses or boost power output at aging plants or at plants with a history of safety violations.
Under legislation proposed by Sanders, power plant operators seeking to extend licenses would be subject to special inspections 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 utilities seek to generate more power than a reactor was originally designed to produce.
After the hearing, Sanders said he would continue to press for passage of his legislation. "The people of Vermont and other places where nuclear power plants are located are entitled to know that everything possible has been done to make certain the plants are safe, and that's what my legislation would do."
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.
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.
The Sanders legislation was endorsed "a means to restore confidence in the NRC as a reliable guardian of public health and safety" by David A. Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists,
For a copy of Senator Sanders' legislation and other information about the bill, click here.
To watch Sanders' opening statement at the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Energy, click here.
To watch the senator question the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, click here.
To read the testimony by the Union of Concerned Scientists, click here.