House Democrats ask for another hearing on Fukushima

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., want the committee to schedule a hearing on lessons from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.

They sent a Sept. 9 letter to full committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., requesting a hearing to examine recent events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, including reports that radioactive wastewater and groundwater may be flowing into the Pacific Ocean at a rate of 300 tons per day.

The hearing should examine any lessons the U.S. can learn from Japan’s response to this water pollution and seek to confirm that it will not affect the U.S, its territories, and other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, the congressmen said.

“Over the last several months, news reports have painted a troubling picture of the situation at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan,” said the letter. “Japanese officials and the plant operator are struggling not only to stabilize the reactors but to manage huge volumes of radioactive water, some of which is leaking into the Pacific Ocean. We are writing to request that you schedule a hearing to examine the status of the Fukushima plant and any lessons the United States can learn from Japan’s response to these serious challenges.”

For more than two years, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has been spraying large volumes of cooling water on the crippled Fukushima reactors and storing the wastewater in pits and hundreds of makeshift storage tanks, the letter noted. This spring, Tepco announced that the pits had begun leaking, allowing radioactive water to seep into the soil. Last month, Tepco announced that at least one of the tanks had leaked 300 tons of water laced with radioactive strontium. Plant operators have measured radiation near these water tanks at levels high enough to inflict a lethal dose to an exposed person in four hours, raising concerns that additional tanks are leaking, the letter said.  

Among other remedies, Japanese officials are considering building an underground frozen soil wall around the four damaged reactors to contain the pollution. Japanese officials have also announced that Tepco may need to release contaminated water from the tanks into the ocean.

“This unfortunate chain of events raises two key issues,” the letter said. “First, the Committee should confirm that this radioactive pollution will not affect the United States, its territories, and other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Some scientists have sought to calm such concerns by showing that the radiation will be diluted by the time it arrives on American shores. Second, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission created a task force to conduct short-term and long-term analysis of the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster. Given what we know now about the challenges of dealing with radioactive wastewater, what additional lessons can the United States learn about how to respond to such a disaster?”

The committee has held several hearings on the Fukushima disaster and the lessons learned from it. In light of these new developments, it is time for another hearing to examine the most recent events, the letter added.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.