Boxer: ‘Unacceptable delay’ in U.S. Fukushima response

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Regulators are moving too slowly to safeguard nuclear reactors in the West against earthquakes in light of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said Thursday.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) pressed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to hasten its review of seismic risks near reactors in her home state and across the western United States.

The NRC evaluation process has taken nearly three years, and the agency has allowed for an additional three years for more analysis in the event that threats are detected, Boxer argued Thursday.

“This is an unacceptable delay — earthquakes will not wait until after the paperwork has been completed,” she said during opening remarks at a hearing on the issue.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that rattled the plant at Fukushima knocked out electric power to the entire facility. Backup onsite diesel generators were wiped out a short time later when a powerful tsunami caused by the earthquake hammered the Japanese coast

After the meltdown — the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, an NRC taskforce made 12 recommendations related to strengthened reactor safety regulations. Some have been completed, including directives meant to protect plants that lose electric power and improve venting systems designed to prevent explosions.

Beyond criticizing the perceived safety delays, Boxer chided the agency for declining to provide her staff with documents related to a committee investigation into safety issues at a plant in California, and accused the commission of approving “excessive” travel.