Boxer unhappy with NRC response to Fukushima task force report

Before she gives up chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) made it clear Dec. 3 that thinks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its departing chairman have not put enough emphasis on preventing a Fukushima-style disaster in the United States.

In January, Boxer will be turning over her chairman’s gavel to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) as the Republicans become the majority party in the Senate. In addition, NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane announced recently that she will leave NRC in January to accept a faculty post with George Washington University.

“I am concerned that the Commission is not doing all that it can to live up to the NRC’s mission “to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment,” Boxer said during her opening statement at the 10th committee hearing with NRC since the 2011 meltdown accident in Japan.

“Although Chairman Macfarlane said when she announced her resignation that she had ensured “that the agency implemented lessons learned from the tragic accident at Fukushima Daiichi so that the American people can be confident that such an accident will never take place here,” the reality is that not a single one of the 12 key safety recommendations made by the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force has been implemented at nuclear reactors in this country,” Boxer said.

In addition, “NRC has only completed its own action on 4 of the 12 Task Force recommendations,” Boxer went on to say.

Boxer, a frequent critic of nuclear power and the NRC, has suggested that NRC has not done enough to ensure the seismic safety of the Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE) (NYSE:PCG) Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

“The agency remains committed to completing this work,” NRC Chairman Macfarlane said in her prepared testimony.

“We have seen the first reactors come into compliance with the Mitigating Strategies and the Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation Orders,” Macfarlane said. “Reactors that are required to come into compliance with these orders during their upcoming spring outages are preparing to make safety system modifications that will enable them to complete their required safety enhancements on time,” Macfarlane said.

The departing NRC chairman noted that in the past six months the nuclear power industry has opened two response centers with emergency equipment in Phoenix and Memphis.

Macfarlane said the NRC is reviewing a recent Fukushima report from the National Academies of Science (NAS).

In addition to the two recently sworn-in commissioners, Jeff Baran and Stephen Burns, Macfarlane also appeared alongside incumbent commissioners Kristine Svinicki and William Ostendorff.

Other panelists that appeared before the Senate committee included Sam Blakeslee, PhD, a former state senator and former member of the California Seismic Safety Commission; Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer at the University of California Santa Cruz and Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Anthony Pietrangelo.

Vitter protests that Boxer blocked GOP questioning of Baran

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who is the ranking Republican minority member of the Senate committee, criticized Boxer’s decision “to break committee precedent and not hold a hearing” on extending Commissioner Baran’s tenure through June 30, 2018.

Although Baran was already scheduled to testify at the Dec. 3 hearing, Vitter said Boxer denied a request from the GOP for “three minutes of questions regarding his nomination.”

“The safety and success of our nuclear future depends on the members of NRC to be highly qualified, independent, and thoughtful,” Vitter said. “Clearly, it is irresponsible to extend Jeff Baran’s term considering how he lacks the necessary scientific experience and education – especially without a full Committee hearing to consider his nomination for a full term. Let’s not forget that he visited his first nuclear facility just a few short months ago,” Vitter said.

Baran is a lawyer and long-time Democratic congressional staff official. He was recently confirmed by the Senate to serve the remainder of the term ending June 30, 2015.

During a Dec. 2 business meeting, the committee backed extending Baran for another NRC term. The vote was 10-to-8 along party lines.

The Senate committee also approved the nominations of Virginia T. Lodge and Ronald A. Walter to be members of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.