Washington, D.C. (May 13, 2014) -- Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) joined Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to introduce three bills today aimed at improving the safety and security of decommissioning reactors and the storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear plants across the nation.
When spent nuclear fuel is removed from the part of the reactor that generates electricity, it continues to produce significant quantities of heat and radiation for years. Spent nuclear fuel is too dangerous to be removed from the spent fuel pools for 5-7 years. Studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and independent experts have shown that partial draining of the water from a spent fuel pool caused by an accident or terrorist attack could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination. However, NRC regulations allow spent fuel to remain stored in spent fuel pools until the reactor completes decommissioning, which can take as long as 60 years. Current NRC regulations also allow the NRC and the nuclear plant operator to adopt a decommissioning plan without considering the concerns of nearby states and communities. The three bills introduced today will solve all of these problems.
Senator Markey said: “Experts agree that a spent fuel pool accident could have consequences that are every bit as bad as an accident at an operating reactor. In Massachusetts, Pilgrim nuclear plant’s spent fuel pool contains nearly four times more radioactive waste than it was originally designed to hold. Nuclear waste must be moved to safer storage now before the next nuclear disaster occurs.”
Senator Boxer said: “ In my home state of California, the San Onofre nuclear plant has closed permanently, and this legislation will help guarantee that this facility, and others like it, are safely decommissioned and are no longer a liability for local communities."
Senator Sanders said: “Every state with a nuclear power plant has a strong interest in how that plant is decommissioned. This is about making sure that states and local communities can play a meaningful role in a decision that has enormous economic, environmental, and community impacts.”
Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014 (Markey, Boxer, Sanders)
The Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014 would ensure that every nuclear reactor operator complies with an NRC-approved plan that would require the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pools and place that spent fuel into dry cask storage within 7 years of the time the plan is submitted to the NRC. The legislation also provides funding to help reactor licensees implement the plans and expands the emergency planning zone for non-compliant reactor operators to 50 miles.
Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014 (Boxer, Sanders, Markey)
The Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014 would prohibit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from issuing exemptions from its emergency response or security requirements for spent fuel stored at nuclear reactors that have permanently shut down until all of the spent nuclear fuel stored at the site has been moved into dry casks, which are a more secure and safe option for storage. NRC has determined that earthquakes would be the most likely cause of a spent fuel pool failure that could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination, but has granted every request from emergency response requirements that it has ever received from a licensee of a decommissioning reactor.
Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014 (Sanders, Boxer, Markey)
The Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014 would ensure that states and local communities have a meaningful role in the crafting and preparation of decommissioning plans for retired nuclear plants located in those areas. The bill also requires NRC to publicly and transparently approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan, which it currently is not required to do.