Lautenberg, Menendez want answers on how aging nuclear plants win extensions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) want answers from the federal government about how some aging nuclear power plants have received extensions to continue operating.

In the wake of a yearlong Associated Press investigation that reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may have compromised its standards in granting extensions, the senators wrote to the Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office requesting an official review of allegations.

The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, which is the oldest nuclear power plant still operating in the country, was recently granted an extension of 20 years to operate until 2029. It is identical in design to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan that failed in the wake of the earthquake  earlier this year. The Oyster Creek plant was one of the plants examined by AP for its story.

“Following the Fukushima disaster, we must be more certain than ever that our 104 nuclear power plants in the United States are as safe as possible,” the senators wrote in a joint release. “It would be of grave concern to us if, in fact, aging power stations have achieved compliance with operating rules because of weakened NRC rules, rather than demonstrated compliance with existing standards.”

The full text of the letter follows.

June 21, 2011

The Honorable Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro,

We write to request that you review the allegations in today’s Associated Press (AP) investigation,[1] that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has weakened standards to grant license extensions to operators of aging nuclear power stations, including the Oyster Creek Generating Station in New Jersey. Following the Fukushima disaster, we must be more certain than ever that our 104 nuclear power plants in the United States are as safe as possible.
As you know, once the capital costs of constructing a nuclear power plant have been paid for, it is quite inexpensive to operate a nuclear power plant. This means there is significant incentive within the industry to operate these plants as long as possible and therefore secure extensions to operating licenses. It would be of grave concern to us if, in fact, aging power stations have achieved compliance with operating rules because of weakened NRC rules, rather than demonstrated compliance with existing standards.
Specific allegations in the AP report include that regulators have modified their interpretation of regulations, and their assumptions in risk assessment, in ways that may be compromising public safety. These allegations resonate with residents of New Jersey because the state is home to the oldest nuclear power plant in the U.S., the Oyster Creek Generating Station.
Built in 1969 and identical in design to the failed Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, Oyster Creek was recently granted an extension of 20 years to operate until 2029. This extension came despite widespread concern over the plant’s history of leaking tritium. Though the operator intends to shut Oyster Creek in 2019 to avoid building state-mandated cooling towers, the circumstances of its extension are now being questioned.
Thank you for your attention to the serious allegations that are raised in the AP report, and we look forward to reviewing your findings.
Sincerely,

Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Frank R. Lautenberg

 

Lautenberg, Menendez want answers on how aging nuclear plants win extensions