Feinstein convenes hearing on nuclear power

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questions witnesses at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 30, 2011.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questions witnesses at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 30, 2011. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein convened a hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., on the nuclear plant crisis in Japan and on how the United States can better manage its nuclear generators and their waste.

In her opening remarks, she spoke about visiting California’s two nuclear power plants last week.

“I was very impressed with the dedication, the confidence and the professionalism of the large staffs that run these facilities and the regulatory agents who guard against risk,” Feinstein said. “But we need to reconfirm that these facilities are designed to endure the threats we can foresee and prepare to respond to scenarios that we never imagined.”

Spent nuclear fuel at power plants must cool off in on-site pools for five to seven years. But Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, noted that plants often keep it there far longer. In some instances, she said, spent fuel is still cooling at California nuclear plants after more than 25 years.

“This process may have regulatory approval, but I have a hard time understanding why the nuclear regulatory commission has not mandated a more rapid transfer of spent fuel to dry casks,” she said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko assured Feinstein that the pools at US plants are built to withstand natural disasters. He also said the NRC is conducting a comprehensive review of nuclear power plants in the US and that review will look at spent fuel storage.

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