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Public Interest Groups Support Sen. Sanders’ Bill For Independent Safety Reviews of Nuclear Reactors

March 28, 2007

Public Interest Groups Support Sen. Sanders’ Bill For Independent Safety Reviews of Nuclear Reactors

Legislation Would Enable States to Assess Safety of Aging Nuclear Power Plants

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public interest groups concerned about the safety of the country’s 103 operating nuclear power reactors announced their support for legislation introduced today by Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) that would enable states to request independent safety assessments by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at nuclear power plants. Sanders announced the safety legislation on the anniversary of the U.S.’s worst nuclear accident, the 1979 partial reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island near Middletown, Pa.  

Under the bill, states could request reviews when plant owners seek to increase the maximum power output or extend the operating lifetime of their facilities, or when the NRC’s performance ratings for the plants decline. It would require any safety problems that are identified by the independent assessments to be corrected before the NRC approves the power level increase or the 20-year license renewal of the reactor.

The NRC has granted 20-year license extensions to 48 reactors thus far, based largely on paper reviews of the aging components, rather than on-the-ground inspections. The reviews also exclude some safety components, such as emergency core cooling pumps, which the NRC assumes the plant operator is keeping in good condition. Conducting an independent safety assessment could identify problems before public safety is put at risk.

Experience, such as at the Quad Cities nuclear plant in Illinois, has shown that increasing power output can lead to vibration that causes leaks, damage to critical components and other events that increase the likelihood of an accident. 

The NRC contends that its existing regulatory processes ensure adequate protection of public health and safety. But few outside of the NRC and the industry it attempts to regulate share that belief. Sanders’ bill would satisfy the widening public demand for credible assurance that nuclear plant safety margins are not being compromised.