California Sen. Barbara Boxer grills nuclear officials

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Evening sets on the San Onofre atomic power plant in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente, California.

Capitol Hill got its first briefing on the troubles at Japanese nuclear power plants. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde says senators pushed officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to find out how safe the nuclear plants are in their own states.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees more than 100 nuclear reactors that produce electric power in the US. California Sen. Barbara Boxer reminded the NRC’s executive director that San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are in her seismically active state. She asked Bill Borchardt why the NRC advised Americans near the damaged Japanese nuclear plants to evacuate.

Borchardt said, "if that same type of radiological problem existed in the United States, our recommendation to state governments would be to evacuate up to 50 miles."

Boxer asked whether he knew how many people live within 50 miles of San Onofre nuclear power plant? Borchardt said he didn't know.

Boxer told him: 7.4 million people.

Boxer said Germany has already shut down its older reactors, Switzerland has suspended the approval process for three new plants, and the European Union is calling for stress tests at all the nuclear plants on the continent.

She asked Borchardt if the US had similar plans. Borchardt said the NRC would "certainly do an extensive 'lessons learned' as we gather more and more information on the events in Japan and apply those to our regulatory system and the review of all 104 operating reactors in the country. But based on the information that we have at this moment, there’s not a sufficient basis to take any immediate action."

Boxer and her California colleague Dianne Feinstein have sent a letter to the NRC asking for inspections at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon to “evaluate their safety and emergency preparedness plans.”

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