July 14, 2011: Markey Queries NRC on Possible Loophole in New Safety Recommendations

Markey Queries NRC on Possible Loophole in New Safety Recommendations for More Than Half of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants
 
Inquiry follows release of NRC Near Term Task Force Report recommending upgrades to nuclear reactors to withstand severe events
 
WASHINGTON D.C. (July 14, 2011) – Upon release of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Near Term Task Force report, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today called on the Commission to ensure that any safety requirements adopted in response to the Fukushima meltdowns are applicable to and enforceable at all nuclear power plants in the U.S. As part of its report, the NRC Task Force recommended that the NRC act to ensure that there are requirements to upgrade nuclear reactor protections for severe events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, fires or floods. Currently, the NRC uses the General Design Criteria (GDC) regulations to define many such safety requirements for enhancing or upgrading nuclear facilities. However, a 1992 Commission decision not to apply the GDC to nuclear power plants with construction permits issued prior to May 21, 1971 means that 59 nuclear power plants – 57 percent of the U.S. nuclear fleet – might not be subject to the implementation of the Task Force recommendation.

If the 21st century nuclear safety requirements are not applied to all of our 20th century nuclear power plants, we will have failed to respond effectively to the Japanese meltdowns,” wrote Rep. Markey, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee. “This outcome would obviously be inimical to the goal of upgrading the safety requirements of all nuclear reactors in this country.” 

Rep. Markey asked the Commission in the letter  sent today whether it intended to ensure that any safety upgrades made in response to the Fukushima meltdowns are applied to all nuclear power plants in the U.S.
 
In the wake of the Japanese disaster, Rep. Markey has introduced H.R. 1242, the Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011. This legislation called for many of the same measures that have now been recommended by the NRC Task Force. Specifically, the Markey bill contains provisions that will:

  • Ensure that nuclear power plants and spent nuclear fuel pools can withstand and adequately respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, strong storms, long power outages, or other events that threaten a major impact.
  • Require nuclear power plants to have emergency backup plans and systems that can withstand longer electricity outages. The Fukushima meltdown was primarily caused by the loss of external electricity to the reactor containment and the spent nuclear fuel and failure of the emergency backup generators. Specifically, this means 14 days worth of diesel fuel backup generators where most reactors currently have 7 days worth, and 72 hours for battery generators where most reactors currently have battery generators that work for only 4-8 hours. The Fukushima nuclear power plant had 8-hour battery powered generators.
  • Require spent nuclear fuel to be moved into safer dry cask storage as soon as the fuel is sufficiently cooled to do so.

A copy of the letter to the NRC can be found HERE . Attachment 1 to the letter can be found HERE . Attachment 2 to the letter can be found HERE .
 
Rep. Markey’s statement on the NRC Near Term Task Force report can be found HERE .
 
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