August 24, 2011: To NRC: VA Earthquake Highlights Need to Update U.S. Nuclear Safety Standards

Markey to NRC: VA Earthquake Highlights Need to Update U.S. Nuclear Safety Standards

Failure of Backup Generator at North Anna Nuclear Facility is 74th Occurrence of Inoperability in Eight Years

WASHINGTON (August 24, 2011) – Following yesterday’s earthquake that caused the automatic shutdown of a nuclear power plant just a few miles from the temblor’s epicenter, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Congress’ leading voice for nuclear safety, today called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger safety standards to prevent a nuclear accident.

While the North Anna nuclear facility, located about 10 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, successfully shut down, one of the backup diesel generators failed to operate. According to a report released by Rep. Markey in May of 2011, and with updated figures from yesterday’s incident and the past four months, this was the 74th report of an inoperable backup diesel generator over the last eight years. Backup diesel systems provide the power to cool reactors in the event of a electricity outage to the plant. The meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan happened following a power outage to the plant due to the earthquake, and subsequent inoperability of the diesel backup systems due to the tsunami.

“The Fukushima meltdown was a long-distance warning to the U.S. nuclear industry to bolster its safety systems, including backup power reliability and redundancy. The Virginia earthquake is now our local 911 call to stop delaying the implementation of stricter safety standards,” Rep. Markey wrote today to Greg Jaczko, the Chairman of the NRC. “This illustrates a long-standing concern related to the adequacy of maintenance of emergency diesel generators that must be addressed in order to be certain that any loss of external electricity -- be it caused by an earthquake, tornado, flood or terrorist attack -- does not lead to the same sort of catastrophic meltdowns that occurred in Japan.”

Rep. Markey’s full letter to Chairman Jaczko is available HERE and Rep. Markey’s report, Fukushima Fallout, is available HERE.

The report notes that NRC has twice -- in both 1989 and 2007 -- warned its licensees regarding diesel generator failures.  However, no regulatory requirements have been imposed to ensure that the generators are properly maintained and operational. In the letter, Rep. Markey urges the NRC to institute and enforce regulations that ensure that both diesel and secondary battery generators are properly maintained and operate as intended.  

“Having emergency diesel generators and secondary battery generators onsite is not sufficient. The Commission must prescribe and enforce maintenance requirements to ensure that the generators operate as intended,” writes Rep. Markey, who is the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.