June 15, 2011: To NRC: Suspend All Reactor Licensing Until Task Force Recommendations Implemented

WASHINGTON (June 15, 2011) – Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee, issued the following statement in response to today's release of the 60-day findings of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) task force reviewing NRC processes and regulations in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns.

Japanese authorities have admitted that the nuclear meltdowns were far more severe than previously acknowledged and likely involved the melting of highly radioactive fuel through the containment vessel. The NRC should not allow American nuclear reactor safety to fall through regulatory holes and should announce a halt to all new nuclear reactor and design licenses and license extensions for existing reactors until the lessons of the Fukushima disaster are fully integrated in our regulations and plans. The NRC task force has conclusively found that U.S. reactors are not sufficiently prepared to respond to catastrophic events or even simple power outages, and until this is remedied, the issuance of a single nuclear power plant license would be irresponsible.”

Since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Rep. Markey has queried the NRC for more information on the implications for America’s domestic nuclear industry:

Rep. Markey introduced H.R. 1242, the Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011 to impose a moratorium on nuclear power plant licenses and license extensions until an overhaul of nuclear safety to address the inadequacies exposed by the Fukushima meltdowns is completed.

Rep. Markey’s office also recently released the report, “Fukushima Fallout: Regulator Loopholes at U.S. Nuclear Plants”, detailing several inadequacies of NRC safety regulations following the Fukushima crisis, including inadequacies related to the safety of spent fuel pools and the ability of nuclear power plants to mitigate the effects of and respond to a loss of electricity.
Rep. Markey has also criticized the NRC for its apparent failure to follow the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires analysis of the environmental impacts of potential events such as the Fukushima disaster, prior to its approval of several applications to extend the licenses of currently operating nuclear reactors. He has also urged the NRC to halt all pending approvals including for the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Massachusetts, and the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire, which has currently applied for another 20-year extension more than 20 years before its current license expires.

During Congressional hearings in April related to the Fukushima meltdowns, Rep. Markey announced the NRC’s technical assessment that at least one of the reactors in Japan had suffered a meltdown that caused the fuel to melt holes in the reactor vessel, and uncovered inconsistencies in NRC’s inaccurate assertions that technologies to prevent the sort of hydrogen explosions that occurred in Japan were required to be in place in the U.S.

And just days before the Japanese earthquake, Rep. Markey sent a letter to the NRC urging the resolution of safety concerns for the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor design, including those related to the ability of the reactor to withstand a severe impact such as an earthquake.  The NRC has since identified additional problems with this design.