For Immediate Release Contact: Jim Warren, NC WARN: 919-416-5077
June 14, 2005 Deb Katz, CAN: 413-339-5781
House Committee Demands NRC Act to Address Security Risks at Reactor Waste Pools
Watchdog Coalition Hails House, Calls for Senate, State Support
SHELBURNE FALLS, MA – A powerful Congressional committee has issued a stinging criticism of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inaction regarding the safety of waste fuel stored at the nation’s nuclear power plants, and directed the agency to move on recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences.
Today, the Nuclear Security Coalition (NSC), comprised of 48 grassroots and publicinterest groups nation-wide, applauded the House Energy & Water Appropriations Committee. It also launched a campaign to persuade a Senate appropriations committee to join the House in pressing for risk reduction. The Coalition believes that state Attorneys General who pressed Congress to increase security for “spent” nuclear fuel should have a role ensuring that urgent actions called for by NAS are implemented.
“This is another strong step toward protecting the public from a radiation disaster,” said Deb Katz of the Coalition and northeastern Citizens Awareness Network. “Many Republicans and Democrats are outraged by NRC’s inaction and its refusal to demand accountability from nuclear corporations – and realize the unparalleled threat posed by cooling pools packed with highly radioactive fuel rods.”
In House bill 2419, passed May 25th, the Committee approved $21 million for technical analyses needed to respond to the NAS safety and security recommendations. In unusually strong language, the committee criticized the NRC’s closeness to nuclear plant owners, and indicated that the technical work should not be performed by industry groups: “The Committee expects the NRC to redouble its efforts to address the NAS-identified deficiencies, and to direct, not request, industry to take prompt corrective actions.”
In early 2004, Congress directed the NAS to study the safety and security of commercial spent nuclear fuel storage. NAS, the nation’s preeminent science panel issued a classified report last July. Under intense pressure from citizen groups, congressional representatives, and seven state Attorneys General,
NRC finally agreed to release a redacted version for the public in April.
NAS concluded that waste cooling pools are vulnerable to terrorism and the consequences of an attack
could spread radiation a hundred miles. The Academy recommended specific and immediate actions that NRC should order to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires caused by loss of pool cooling water. It also recommended additional analysis to prioritize risks at different plants, while noting that lower-density pool storage, coupled with improved dry storage and berming, would reduce the potential for large-scale radiation releases.
Today, the citizen coalition began efforts to meet with senators from various states and seek support for legislation to hold NRC accountable to the science academy’s recommendations.
“The need for swift action is crucial,” explained Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN. She pointed out that the FBI and security experts such as Bennett Ramberg, a former State Department official, remain concerned. “They continue to warn that nuclear plants are top targets, and that the NRC is asleep on the job.”
In letters sent today, the citizen groups requested of their senators, “To insure scientific objectivity and increase public confidence, the NAS should be tasked with doing an independent analysis and a group of
concerned and involved Attorneys General would appoint independent experts to monitor and review NAS’ findings. Attorneys General from states in which reactors are located would best represent the people’s interest and could increase confidence and transparency in the process.”
The Academy warned that the NRC’s current secrecy is impeding security. The citizen groups are asking Congress to remove any secrecy that does not conflict with national security.
The Nuclear Security Coalition is a national group of 48 grassroots and public interest organizations advocating for improved security at nuclear power plants.