Conflicting Accounts Require Clarity, Says Lawmaker; Nuclear Industry Updates Hampered by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Membership


WASHINGTON (March 18, 2011) – Amidst conflicting information regarding the status of the meltdowns and condition of the spent nuclear fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior Democratic member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to provide the American public and Congress the latest in information on the nuclear emergency in Japan.

Now that the NRC is on the ground and involved in the response in Japan, Rep. Markey asks the agency to provide daily reports and an analysis of multiple scenarios, including worst-case events, to Congress and the public.

I believe that it is vitally important to all those who may be considering leaving the vicinity of the impacted reactors to be receiving accurate and unbiased written assessment of current conditions,” wrote Rep. Markey in the letter to NRC head Greg Jaczko. “It is also important that the American public fully understand the potential magnitude and timing associated with a worst-case core melt-down and radiation release or spent fuel fire.

A copy of the letter to the NRC can be found HERE.

Along with daily situation reports, Rep. Markey is asking the NRC to provide scenario readouts on the following events at each of the affected reactor units and spent nuclear fuel pools:
--The loss of water in the spent fuel cooling ponds and subsequent fire and/or release of radiation.
--A full core meltdown assuming that no further breaches in containment occur.
--A full core meltdown assuming containment structures are already breached or become breached.

Rep. Markey also notes in the letter that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the Fukushima reactors, is a member of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), which has been sending updates on the situation in Japan to Congress and the public. Rep. Markey notes in the letter that NEI has “a clear vested interest in providing a highly optimistic assessment of the situation.”

Since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Rep. Markey has called for a series of immediate actions in response to the resulting nuclear emergency. 

Rep. Markey has asked the Obama administration to fully implement the 2002 law he authored that potassium iodide, the “emergency pills” taken after a nuclear disaster which can help prevent the cancer-causing effects of radiation poisoning, be distributed to those living within 20 miles of a U.S. nuclear facility. The Bush administration ignored the law and the Obama administration has not yet reversed the Bush policy despite a letter Rep. Markey sent in 2009 urging President Obama to implement the law.

Rep. Markey also called for a moratorium on all new reactors that could be placed in seismically active areas until a top-to-bottom review of design resiliency, emergency response, backup power to prevent a meltdown during long electricity outages, and evacuation plans has been conducted. Operating nuclear reactors should then also be retrofitted to incorporate the findings of the review. Rep. Markey has also demanded a safety review of the 31 reactors in the United States that are the same design as those currently experiencing major failure in Japan.

And Rep. Markey has asked the NRC to suspend a pending approval of the design for the AP1000 nuclear reactor. One of NRC's most senior staff warned that the containment structure for this reactor design would not be able to withstand a strong earthquake and it was so brittle it could “shatter like a glass cup” under sufficient stress.

Rep. Markey has served on the Committees that have oversight over the NRC and the nuclear utility industry since 1976.  For more than three decades, Rep. Markey has worked to secure nuclear power plants and ensure the public safety in the event of a nuclear disaster. In 1979, before the Three Mile Island accident occurred, Rep. Markey introduced legislation providing for a three year moratorium on licensing of new nuclear power plants until a top to bottom safety analysis on nuclear reactors could be performed. In 1986, he chaired hearings on the causes and consequences of the disaster at Chernobyl. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rep. Markey passed a law to strengthen security for nuclear reactors and materials, and a law providing for distribution of potassium iodide to those living within 20 miles of a nuclear reactor (which still has not been implemented). And before the catastrophe in Japan, Rep. Markey raised concerns of the seismic resiliency of our reactors.