Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Markey, Boxer Release GAO Report: NRC Earthquake, Flooding Risk Assessment Not Adequate

From Rep Markey:

Today, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) doesn’t require operating nuclear reactors to utilize the most updated method of risk analysis to assess vulnerability to earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters. The GAO report found that while the NRC has, since 1986, repeatedly endorsed and recommended the use of Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA, which is a more comprehensive risk assessment method that looks at all potential causes of an accident for any particular hazard), it has not required any currently operating reactor to actually use the technique to evaluate vulnerabilities to natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.

The threat of natural disasters to nuclear reactor safety is not theoretical. Eight nuclear reactors are in the seismically active West Coast, approximately 27 are near the New Madrid seismic zone in the mid-west, and 5 are in earthquake-prone South Carolina. Last summer, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake centered near Mineral, VA caused the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station to shut down after it experienced a greater seismic impact than the reactors were designed to withstand. Last summer’s flooding in Nebraska threatened the Fort Calhoun and Cooper nuclear power plants, Hurricane Irene caused the shut-down or otherwise impacted the emergency systems of at least nine nuclear reactors in August of 2011, and tornadoes caused the shutdown of several nuclear reactors in 2011.

“This report is yet another indication that while the NRC races ahead to issue or extend licenses for nuclear power plants, it has fallen behind inexcusably in addressing the safety of these very same facilities,” said Rep. Markey, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “We know what happened at Fukushima could happen here in the U.S., and we should utilize the best and latest information available to assess vulnerabilities so we can ensure the safety of our operating nuclear reactors.”

“There is simply no excuse for the NRC’s failure to require the most up to date methods to assess the threat posed by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, to our nuclear power plants,” said Senator Boxer, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “While the NRC has agreed to study the issue, action is needed now to ensure that standards are in place that best protect the health and safety of the American public.”

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