Sanders introduces nuclear safety inspection bill

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation to give individual states the authority to require an independent safety inspection of nuclear power plants that are seeking license renewals.

Sanders says the bill is needed because states currently have no jurisdiction in this area.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Sanders introduced the bill on the 28th anniversary of the partial reactor meltdown at the Three Mile Island facility near Middletown, Pennsylvania.

If the bill becomes law it could have a direct impact on the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in Vernon. The facility’s license is set to expire in 2012 and the owner of the plant, Entergy, has filed for a 20-year extension.

Concerns about plant safety come under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Sanders says he believes that “the NRC is too cozy with the nuclear power industry,” and he wants to give states the power to seek an independent safety review:

(Sanders) “The issue here is in Vermont and throughout this country there are many older nuclear power plants that want to extend their lives. They want to increase their output. And it just seems to me commonsensical that if you’re going to be doing that you want to make sure that those plants are rigorously inspected. There has been concern by many people for a number of years that the NRC is too close to the industry they don’t do the kind of objective independent assessment that is needed.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says a comprehensive safety inspection that was conducted in 1996 on the Maine Yankee plant revealed numerous safety concerns – the plant was later closed down.

(Sanders) “We’re holding that up as a model for the kind of inspection that should take place. I would hope that there should be widespread agreement with the concept that you have to go the extra mile, that there should be no limitation in a sense of how far you go to make sure that the nuclear power plant is safe, especially when it’s an older plant.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says he’s also concerned that the federal government will never live up to its promise to build a nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada – that means these wastes will have to be stored on site at individual plants for years to come:

(Sanders) “I don’t know how you can be supportive of building new nuclear power plants when nobody knows where this very toxic waste is going to go. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me and the idea of keeping it by the nuclear power plants like we’re doing at Yankee also does not make a lot of sense to me in terms of safety.”

(Kinzel) Vermont has joined an effort by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to petition the NRC to consider the danger of storing used fuel rods at the Vermont Yankee plant. Coakley wants the review to be part of the plant’s overall re-licensing process.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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