Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday questioned why federal regulators extended the operating license for the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear plant within days of a disastrous meltdown at a similar plant in Fukushima, Japan. Marking the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Senate committee that oversees the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing on the slow pace of efforts to strengthen safety at U.S. nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
"License extensions continue without accounting for lessons learned" and "without taking time to examine the implications of Fukushima," Sanders said at the hearing.
Sanders one year ago called for a moratorium on power plant license renewals in this country. Instead, the week after the Fukushima meltdown, the commission charged with ensuring safety at U.S. nuclear power plants gave Vermont Yankee a license to operate for another 20 years. The decision made Vermont Yankee - with a similar design to the Fukushima reactors - one of 71 U.S. plants to be granted extensions. In fact, no nuclear plant operator in the United States ever has been denied a license renewal by the industry-friendly federal regulators.
The Senate hearing occurred one week before Vermont officials had hoped to close the 40-year-old plant at Vernon, Vt. The state is appealing a decision last January by a federal judge who ruled that state lawmakers overstepped their authority.
"In my state there is a strong feeling that we want to go forward with energy efficiency and sustainable energy. I believe that we have that right. I believe that every other state in the country has that right," Sanders said. "If we want to move to sustainable energy and not maintain an aging, trouble-plagued nuclear power plant, I think we should be allowed to do that."
Sanders also questioned why the federal government sinks billions of dollars into federal subsidies for the nuclear industry. With a $15 trillion national debt, he questioned subsidies like taxpayer-backed insurance for major disasters and $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear plants.
"When it comes to taxpayer support for nuclear power there is no end in sight," Sanders said.