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US Senate members introduce three bills on nuclear plant decommissioning, spent fuel

Washington — Three bills were introduced in the US Senate on Wednesday "aimed at improving the safety and security of decommissioning reactors and the storage of spent nuclear fuel," the bills' sponsors said in a statement.

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Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, both Democrats, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent, also introduced the bills in the previous session of Congress last May, but they were not acted upon.

The Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2015 would bar the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission "from issuing exemptions from its emergency response or security requirements for spent fuel stored at nuclear reactors that have permanently shut down until all of the spent nuclear fuel stored at the site has been moved into dry casks, which are a more secure and safe option for storage," the sponsors said.

The Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2015 aims to "ensure that states and local communities have a meaningful role in the crafting and preparation of decommissioning plans for retired nuclear plants located in those areas," and "require NRC to publicly and transparently approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan" for such plants.

The Dry Cask Storage Act of 2015 would require all power reactor operators to develop "an NRC-approved plan that would require the safe removal of spent fuel from the spent fuel pools and place that spent fuel into dry cask storage within seven years of the time the plan is submitted to the NRC. The legislation also provides funding to help reactor licensees implement the plans and expands the emergency planning zone for non-compliant reactor operators to 50 miles."

The sponsors said studies by NRC, the National Academy of Science, and other experts have shown that a spent fuel pool accident "could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination."

The NRC and the Nuclear Energy Institute, however, contend that spent fuel storage in either pools or dry casks would be safe for decades or longer.

--Steven Dolley,
--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,