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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. OBAMA (for himself and Mr. DURBIN):

S. 2348. A bill to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to require a licensee to notify the Atomic Energy Commission, and the State and county in which a facility is located, whenever there is an unplanned release of fission products in excess of allowable limits; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, less than 2 months ago, it was announced by Exelon Nuclear that an environmental monitoring program discovered higher than normal concentrations of tritium in the groundwater near the Nuclear Generating Station in Braidwood, IL.

Indications are that this tritium plume is the result of an accidental radioactive wastewater release that occurred approximately 6 to 8 years ago, and now the tritiated water has migrated underground into several drinking wells of nearby residents.

While most of the issues associated with this situation are still under investigation, one issue is clear. Community residents, particularly the State and local officials responsible for the safety and health of their constituents, did not receive full or immediate notification of this contamination--either from Exelon, or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, the Federal agency with oversight over nuclear plant operations.

I was surprised to learn, that while Federal law requires State and local officials to be notified immediately upon a ``declared emergency,'' Federal law does not require State and local officials to be notified of any other accidental, unplanned, or unintentional radioactive substance releases that may occur if those releases do not immediately rise to a public health or safety threat. And while those incidents must be documented with the NRC and made available to the public, accessing that information is contingent upon the public and State and local officials actually knowing that these incidents ever occurred.

When radioactive substances are released into the environment outside of normal operating procedures, notifying State and local officials should not be a courtesy; it should be the law.

That's why today I am introducing the Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006, a bill designed to expand the public's right to know when radioactive substances are released from a reactor. Specifically, the bill is designed to accomplish the following: (1) to ensure that the licensees notify State and local officials at the same time the NRC is notified regarding unplanned incidents that occur at local nuclear power plants; (2) to add State and local reporting requirements not just on incidents regarding fissionable material releases, but on all unplanned radioactive substance releases that are outside of normal operating limits; (3) to add State and local reporting requirements when releases exceed not just NRC limits for normal operation, but also when they exceed other Federal limits and standards for groundwater and other types of contamination; (4) to ensure than any repeat unplanned releases of radioactive substances--even if within allowable limits--that occur more than twice within 2 years are reported to State, local and NRC officials--so that we all know when poor maintenance, malfunctions of poor design are going unfixed; and (5) to provide that violations of this provision could result in the revocation of the operating license of the licensee.

As energy demand throughout the Nation increases in the coming decades, we will be challenged in how best to meet these consumption demands without sacrificing the environment. That means using all of our energy resources fully and wisely, including wind, solar, and other important renewable power-generating resources.

Moreover, as Congress considers policies to address air quality and the deleterious effects of carbon emission's on the global ecosystem, it is reasonable--and realistic--for nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration. Illinois has 11 nuclear power plants--the most of any State in the country--and nuclear power provides more than half of Illinois' electricity needs.

The people of Illinois--and all residents who live near nuclear power plants--have a right to know when actions are taken that might affect their safety and well-being. This bill furthers this commonsense goal, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

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