US lawmakers express concern over safety of nuclear plants

US lawmakers express concern over safety of nuclear plants

"The worsening nuclear crisis in Japan is raising serious questions in the minds of many Americans about the safety and preparedness of nuclear power plants in the United States," Democrats members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote a letter to its chairman, Fred Upton, seeking a Congressional hearing on this issue.

The nuclear industry has downplayed the significance of the events in Japan, they note.
"Over the weekend, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying organization, said: "Obviously, any time you have an incident at a nuclear plant that involves any kind of damage or an explosion, it's not good. But in the scheme of things, is it a disaster? We don't think so," according to the letter.

Congressman said the nuclear industry has also asserted that it is far better prepared to respond to a nuclear accident than the oil industry was in responding to the blowout of BP's Macondo well.

"The vice president of nuclear operations for the Nuclear Energy Institute stated:  "The problem with the BP event is that they didn't have a Plan B. We have, I would say, sufficient defense in depth. We have Plan B, C, D and possibly E," according to the letter.

Congressmen hoped the nuclear industry’s self-confidence is warranted, but the US should not accept the industry’s assurances without conducting its own independent evaluation of the risks posed by nuclear reactors in the US and the preparedness of industry and regulators to respond to those risks.

This is especially important given that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is actively considering license applications for new nuclear power plants, as well as renewal licenses for older existing reactors, they said.

"In recent years, the NRC has approved over 60 license renewal applications, including several for plants with the same design as the endangered Japanese facilities.

In fact, the NRC recently voted to renew the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which is of the same design as some of the reactors experiencing severe problems in Japan," they wrote.