Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, told the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) again Sept. 12 that Southern California Edison’s (SCE) San Onofre nuclear plant should not be allowed to restart until NRC is satisfied that it is safe.
“The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is located near San Clemente, and 8.7 million people live within 50 miles of the site,” Boxer said at the opening of a hearing on improving reactor safety in the 21st century.
“This nuclear plant, which is currently offline, has experienced unexpected deterioration with the tubes that carry radioactive water in the plant’s new steam generators,” Boxer said. “Let me be clear – it is the NRC’s duty to ensure that the appropriate actions are taken to address safety concerns related to the compromised tubes before San Onofre’s reactors are permitted to go back online,” Boxer went on to say.
The committee chair said she wanted to ensure the Edison International (NYSE: EIX) subsidiary was in full compliance with the regulations regarding the redesigned steam generators.
The Senate Environment hearing was the seventh oversight meeting that the panel has held regarding the Fukushima meltdown accident in Japan in March 2011. The committee and NRC continue to look at lessons learned from Fukushima for the 104 commercial reactors in the United States.
The Sept. 12 Environment Committee hearing was also the first oversight hearing since Allison Macfarlane replaced Greg Jaczko as NRC chairman this summer.
Regarding Fukushima, NRC “continues to believe that there is no imminent risk from continued operation of existing U.S. nuclear power plants,” Macfarlane said. “At the same time, the NRC’s assessment of insights from the events at Fukushima Dai-ichi led us to conclude that additional requirements should be imposed on licensees to increase the capability of nuclear power plants to mitigate the effects of beyond-design-basis extreme natural phenomena.”
Macfarlane also stressed that NRC is closing examining the lingering unscheduled outages at San Onofre as well as the Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida and the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska.
NRC will hold an open public meeting in California on San Onofre Oct. 9. Macfarlane also said it would be months before NRC could approve restart of San Onofre Unit 2.
Senate panel tackles waste legislation
The Senate Environment panel was not the only congressional panel reviewing nuclear power issues Sept. 12.
The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, chaired by Sen., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., heard testimony on S. 3469, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012.
Constellation Energy Nuclear Group President and CEO Henry Barron called the bill “positive start to overhauling the federal program” but needs to incorporate additional elements and principles to be successful.” The Exelon (NYSE: EXC) official testified on behalf of the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Bingaman’s proposal would establish a separate board of federal officials within the executive branch to oversee a nuclear waste program administrator, but it stops short of creating the semi-autonomous government corporation recommended earlier this year by the administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC), Barron testified.
In an NEI statement, Barron said the operating characteristics of the new management entity must more closely resemble those of a corporation rather than a federal agency.