No Room For Error With Nuclear Energy

Since President Bush has proposed new nuclear development as a signature part of his energy policy, we must ensure that the NRC's safety procedures are foolproof and that they deter future incidents. Since the Reactor Oversight Process was implemented in 2000, safety inspections found that plants or employees had failed to comply with safe operating procedures in over 4,000 instances. And while many of those incidents were classified as "green," under this system, green doesn't mean all clear - it means that a plant or an employee failed to meet the NRC's safety standards.



In Illinois, which has 11 nuclear reactors, several incidents at Exelon plants have demonstrated that even after the implementation of the ROP, there have been a number of safety hazards and radioactive leaks that have threatened public health. This February, Exelon disclosed to the public that between 1996 - 2003, two Illinois plants spilled radioactive, cancer causing tritium on four occasions. Not only did this expose holes in oversight, it also highlighted the nuclear industry's failure to disclose threats to the public health. One of the most immediate ways the Energy and Commerce Committee could promote nuclear safety would be to consider the Nuclear Release Notice Act, sponsored by Senator Obama and Congressman Weller, which would force the nuclear industry to notify the state, county, and public whenever there is an unplanned release of radioactive material in excess of legal limits. Illinois enacted legislation this year which requires nuclear plants to report leaks of radioactive material that contaminate groundwater, surface water, and the soil to state regulators within 24 hours.

In addition to these unannounced radioactive leaks, on February 20, there was a rare on-site emergency at Exelon's LaSalle facility involving control rods that are used to shut reactors down. The NRC has subsequently released a report that states that the site area emergency declared at LaSalle overstated the problem, but the incident raised several questions. First, shouldn't there be federal standards, regulated by the NRC, which outline what constitutes a nuclear emergency and mandates a particular federal response? In addition, under the ROP, individual plants are inspected more or less regularly based on their individual histories. The incidents at Davis-Besse and LaSalle beg the question why aren't all of the nation's 103 nuclear plants inspected and regulated with the highest possible frequency and standards?