— ALERT: US Senate bill S. 2795 would eliminate mandatory licensing hearings for ‘Advanced Nuclear Reactors’ – Small Modular Reactors

Translation, no public input on licensing.

If it isn’t mandatory, it doesn’t happen.

The industry is pushing nuclear energy as a zero emissions climate solution. Is the next step mandatory nuclear reactors wherever the government and industry deem necessary? 

From Mining Awareness
April 27. 2016

Excerpts below from the April 21st, 2016 US Senate Hearing on Nuclear Energy Regulation (i.e. deregulation).”Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. Hearings held. Type of Action: Committee Consideration, Action By: Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety S.2795 — 114th Congresshttps://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/2795/all-actions?resultIndex=3&overview=closed This bill needs to be watched.

This part discusses the effort by nuclear industry, and their lackeys in the Senate, to do away with mandatory hearings for new reactor types, on the basis of circular logic. Senator Markey stands up for public safety.
Ed Markey US Senate Nuclear Hearing 21 April 2016

Senator Ed Markey:
Dr. Lyman, This Bill would scrap the requirement that the NRC hold a mandatory hearing on each application for a construction permit or operating license. Instead, such hearings would only occur if they are requested by a person who’s interest might be effected. Is there any evidence that mandatory hearings have uncovered weaknesses in NRC staff evaluations of construction permits or operating license applications that otherwise would never have come to public view?

Dr. Lyman: “Thank you for the question. In our view, the mandatory hearing does establish a unique and important role in filling a gap in the event that a contested hearing does not occur. And, even if a contested hearing does occur the mandatory hearing, the scope, examines other issues including the adequacy of the NRC staff’s review. And, a colleague of mine, a lawyer, Diane Curran, has compiled a number of instances where the mandatory hearings have uncovered significantinadequacies in the NRC staff’s review and I would offer that list for your inspection. So, we believe that the mandatory hearing process is important. It is also important for transparency. We heard a lot about the need to maintain transparency in the NRC review process. And, the fact is that the public doesn’t always have the resources to be able to contest a hearing, even if there are very important safety issues that need adjudication. For those reasons we think that mandatory hearings should be preserved.

Senator Markey: “And, I agree with you. There are mandatory hearings if you want to build a new house next door to someone else’s house. There’s a public hearing down at town hall. And, here we are building a nuclear power plant and mandatory hearings for a construction permit, for an operating permit would no longer be mandatory? That just makes no sense whatsoever.

That’s an inherently dangerous technology that needs all kinds of tough questions to be asked about it.

So, I understand the wish list of the [nuclear] industry that would say – “No more hearings”, “No more public input”, “No more questions asked by the Union of concern scientists in public hearings questioning the underlying premise of building a nuclear power plant in someone’s neighborhood”.

But, I don’t think the public will be happy that they’re told no hearings on this dangerous technology.

Again it still needs insurance protection from the Federal Government, that’s how inherently dangerous it is. The private sector still isn’t willing to provide the insurance. You need the government to intervene to provide that coverage.

Senator Markey: “Do you agree that granting safety exemptions to Advance Reactor Licensees could lead to a net reduction in overall safety?

Ed Lyman: “Yes. Just to elaborate on that concern. The industry is pressing for generic decisions to be made on certain policy issues including the size of emergency planning zones for Advanced Reactors or Small Modular Reactors, the level of security that is needed, whether or not the containment needs to be robust against large pressure increases and whether the number of operators needed to staff a nuclear reactor complex should be reduced.

They want these decisions to be made based on expectation or the assertion that Advanced Reactors are so much safer than current reactors that we don’t need that we don’t need these extra levels of protection. Our concern is that assertion is not always based on a full enough body of evidence and experimental data to justify making those decisions. So there could be a net reduction of safety if exemptions and other relaxations in safety procedures are granted based on a presumption that a new reactor is safer without a full examination of that claim.

Senator Markey: “So, laced throughout the bill as it is drafted is an assumption that there are inherent safety features built into Advanced design for reactors that make it safer automatically. And, that’s a nice assumption to make, it’s a nice assertion to make but that’s got to be tested. We have to make sure that any one additional potentially successful safety feature interacts with the totality of the rest of the nuclear power plant in terms of them assuming that the plant’s safer. And, we don’t know that. It’s an assumption built into the language of the bill and so this just goes to the question, and it is an 80-20 question.

What are the big issues that we have to deal with here? And 80% of it’s just going to still remain is there enough money for the NRC to do their job? Have enough personnel asking all the right questions? Having the right supervision? The fees are going to be reduced.

Are these new technologies actually inherently safer? We have to have the capacity to be able to determine that.

Will the public be able to ask questions?

The industry’s has always tried to get the public out. But after Three Mile Island, after Chernobyl and after any other number of other incidents, the people don’t trust the experts anymore. They want to be able to ask questions too. Because these power plants are going into their neighborhoods. You can’t wall out whole areas of the country from these questions…

Public input is vital and should actually be strengthened. The new reactors should not be exempted from important safety requirements that historically have been required. And, that the NRC budget should not be capped. So, these are the central areas, the big questions that we are going to have to answer in this legislation. It’s going to keep coming back to the same questions we have been asking for the last seven years on technology. The questions don’t change…

Note that when they say that a “person who’s interest might be effected” might request a hearing, the US NRC appears to have a really narrow definition of that. From our understanding, to get “standing” you apparently need to be within the 50 mile official impact zone. So, if they make the official impact zone smaller based on the “inherent safety” of new reactors then there will be even less opportunity to request a hearing. If the US Senate is not stopped on this, in the end for the SMRs it will probably fall to local zoning ordinances, where they exist.

A recent Gallup poll shows that the majority of Americans oppose nuclear power now. The number would certainly be higher if it were a nuclear power station nearby. The number would be higher still if they have to take the waste.

NB-Disclaimer: This transcript is our own based on the video. The C-Span transcript is really incomplete and inaccurate. They even state that it is “uncorrected”. We do not guarantee that our transcript is perfect, but it is close to perfect. Always listen and compare to the original video if you need a word for word transcript. We are also unable to transcribe Senator Markey’s intonation which is very important here.