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Lyman Letter Urges NRC to Pursue Post-Fukushima Safety Upgrades

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Ed Lyman sent a letter today to NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane  urging the NRC to reject recent requests by legislators to weaken critical post-Fukushima safety reforms and slow down their implementation. His letter is responding to recent letters sent to the NRC by Senate and House Republicans complaining that the agency is moving too quickly with costly post-Fukushima safety upgrade requirements.

The Senate letter, sent on February 4, was signed by Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member David Vitter (La.) and six other senators. It was essentially a brief reiteration of the House’s January 15 letter, which was signed by Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and 20 other Republican members of his committee.

Both House and Senate letters asked the NRC to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the differences between Japanese and U.S. nuclear power standards to determine whether Japanese regulations were weaker than those in the United States before the Fukushima accident, making Fukushima more vulnerable. UCS believes such an analysis would not help resolve safety concerns and only serve to stall implementation of safety upgrades.

Ed responds that:

“Such a review, although interesting, would be of little practical relevance to the NRC’s mission of ensuring that U.S. laws and regulations are fully implemented to protect the health and safety of Americans from nuclear power plant accidents or terrorist attacks. Especially in a time of budget austerity, we do not support directing the NRC staff to divert scarce resources away from their core mission to pursue a time-consuming academic exercise.”

The House and Senate letters also criticized an NRC staff recommendation that the agency require the owners of General Electric Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactors—the same kind of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant—to install filtered vents to reduce radioactive releases in the event of an accident. Twenty-three of the 104 currently operating reactors in the United States are Mark I reactors. Another eight are Mark II designs.

The House letter cited the nuclear power trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is opposed to the NRC requiring filtered vents. According to NEI, “No strategy has been identified where an external filter alone would successfully mitigate releases.”

UCS supports filtered vents. Filters are a key part of the solution, and when combined with the other safeguards the industry is required to implement, reduce the risk to the public.

Ed’s letter states:

“The [NRC] staff has provided ample evidence to back up their conclusion that filters are a prudent, efficient, cost-effective measure that would also provide defense-in-depth by being available to greatly reduce radioactive emissions to the environment during venting under a range of contingencies. The presence of filters will give operators the confidence to use the vents if needed to reduce containment pressure if the status of the reactor core is unknown, as was the case at Fukushima.”

Posted in: Nuclear Power Safety Tags: , ,

About the author: Dr. Wright received his PhD in physics from Cornell University in 1983, and worked for five years as a research physicist. He was an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellow in International Peace and Security in the Center for Science and International Affairs in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and a Senior Analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. He is a Fellow of the American Physics Society (APS) and a recipient of APS Joseph A. Burton Forum Award in 2001. He has been at UCS since 1992. Areas of expertise: Space weapons and security, ballistic missile proliferation, ballistic missile defense, U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons policy

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  • B. Brunner

    Thanks for this excellent blog supporting NRC’s independent conclusions, and for showing how politics and the economy tries to weaken the public safety. It’s a scandal by itself that an “Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member” can be that much sold to environment-unfriendly ideas !

    Electors should know this unethical behavior. And your reference blog hopefully will help in this education.

  • Richard Solomon, PhD

    Thanks to Ed Lyman for sending the NRC that letter. The agency needs to continue its efforts to improve the safety of the plants around the USA.

    Would it help if individuals contacted the NRC’s Allison Macfarlane to underscore these concerns? I would be willing to do so.

    • David Wright

      It’s always helpful for policy makers to receive thoughtful, personalized letters. The industry and its supporters seem to be engaged in a full court press to get the NRC to delay and weaken post-Fukushima efforts. Their near-term target appears to be whether owners of boiling water reactors should be required to install filtered vents, which they deem too expensive and unnecessary. You might also consider writing to urge Sen. Boxer to call the NRC commissioners before the Environment & Public Works Committee to address this issue and provide her an opportunity to push back on the arguments coming from the industry and some lawmakers.

      • richard solomon

        Thanks for the prompt, encouraging reply.

        I will send Dr. Macfarlane an email soon. Since I live in Calif, I frequently send Sen Boxer emails about NRC/nuclear power related issues. I will do likewise with her.

        I hope other UCS members will do likewise.