Sanders: Public lacks confidence in NRC oversight

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders told federal nuclear regulators today that the public lacks confidence in their ability to oversee the industry.

But while Sanders questioned nuclear power, other Senators praised what they called a coming nuclear renaissance.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The hearing was on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s oversight process. And Sanders cited recent mishaps at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to make the case that the federal nuclear agency isn’t doing its job.

A cooling tower partially collapsed in August, and a stuck valve a week later caused an unplanned shutdown.

Sanders questioned NRC chairman Dale Klein.

(Sanders) "Fortunately, no one was hurt in either of these accidents. If you were living in southern Vermont, or New Hampshire, or northern Massachusetts, would you have confidence in the NRC after this series of events?

Klein: Well, Senator, sitting at this side of the table, I would hope people in Vermont have confidence in the NRC.

Sanders: They don’t."

(Dillon) Sanders is pushing legislation that would require the NRC to conduct an independent safety assessment when utilities want to extend the life of a nuclear plant.

Yankee is before the NRC to renew its license another 20 years, until 2032. Sanders says the independent study – which could be requested by a governor or state utility regulators – would ensure unbiased and detailed review of plant safety.

The NRC says the legislation isn’t needed. Commission Chairman Klein promised a thorough review:

(Klein) "I can assure you that we will have a rigorous inspection, both by the staff and by the commission".

(Dillon) Sanders was skeptical. But other Senators on the panel praised what they say is the rebirth of nuclear power. For the first time in almost three decades, the industry is trying to build new plants. The NRC is now reviewing applications for two reactors proposed for south Texas.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said wind energy – which Sanders supports – is unreliable. He said a wind farm in Tennessee produces power only when the wind blows.

(Alexander) "And during August when we’re all sweating and our air conditioners are up, the average amount of time they don’t work is 93 percent of the time. Where nuclear power is producing electricity, on the average in TVA’s region, is producing clean electricity, emission free electricity, more than 90 percent of the time."

(Dillon) But Sanders said nuclear energy has other problems, including long term storage of radioactive waste.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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