Durbin Questions Nuclear Experts at Senate Hearing

Questions follow Durbin -- Kirk hearing on Illinois nuclear power plants

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today questioned the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, and the Department of Energy’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, Dr. Peter Lyons, about the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States and the prospect of renewing the U.S.’s interest in research into the reprocessing of nuclear fuel – as is being done in countries like France, Britain and Russia. Last week, Durbin and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) held a hearing in Chicago on nuclear power plant safety in Illinois.


“Senator Kirk and I had a hearing last week because, in Illinois, we are so nuclear power dependent with half of the electricity in our state generated by nuclear power,” said Durbin. “Additionally, 4 of the 11 generators in Illinois are the same design as Fukushima. At the hearing, we had a long conversation about many things including the nuclear waste on site. I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether or not the United States should renew its interest in researching the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.”


Today’s hearing was held in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, of which Durbin is a member, and entitled: “A review of Nuclear Safety in Light of the Impact of Natural Disasters on Japanese Nuclear Facilities.” There are 23 U.S. nuclear plants that have designs that are similar to those in Japan. In Illinois, both the Dresden and Quad Cities plants are the same design and age as the reactors in Fukushima. To date, many entities have initiated a review of our nuclear energy facilities.


[Text of Durbin’s remarks submitted for the record at today’s hearing are below]


Senator Durbin

Opening Statement

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing


I want to thank the Chairwoman for convening this hearing to look into the safety at our nation’s nuclear power plants.


Let me begin by extending my heartfelt condolences to those affected by the recent tragic events in Japan.


The devastation of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami has caused the evacuation of over 350, 000 people.


As we speak, crews of nuclear engineers, fire fighters, and plant workers are working around the clock to place the plant’s reactors into a stable, cold shutdown and protect millions of people from the harmful releases of radioactive materials.


The question before us now is: what can we learn from the disasters in Japan and how might those lessons apply to the safety practices at our own plants and our own emergency planning?



US Nuclear Generation


There are 104 nuclear reactors in the United State, providing 20% of our electricity.


My own home state of Illinois ranks first in nuclear power generation with 11 reactors at 6 plants—accounting for one-tenth of the nuclear power generated in this country.


Given the amount of electricity it produces, we cannot maintain our standard of living without nuclear power.


And, as Secretary Chu has stated, nuclear energy will undoubtedly be a part of future electricity generation in our country.


Therefore, we can’t ignore issues surrounding the safety and reliability of nuclear reactors and our readiness for accidents at these facilities.



Fuel Cycle


Beyond ensuring the safety of reactors and on-site spent fuel pools, fuel management needs to be re-evaluated. The ‘once-through’ fuel cycle currently used in this country may not make economic sense anymore.


Because a lot of our power is generated from nuclear sources, Illinois has more commercial nuclear waste than any other state and is home to the only fuel conversion plant in the country.


We are acutely aware of the need for safe and efficient policies handling spent nuclear waste.


I’d like to see a renewed interest in research into the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. This technology is being used in France, Britain, and Russia and I think offers some potential for this country.


In addition, we are awaiting the report of the Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to provide us with a road map on how we should proceed.





The catastrophic damage done to Japan’s nuclear power plant on March 11th has raised many concerns about the safety of nuclear energy generation.


Four of the 23 nuclear power plants in the U.S. that have the same design as the ones damaged in Japan are in Illinois.


Last week, Senator Kirk and I held a public forum with stakeholders and experts in nuclear energy from the regulatory, industrial, government, and scientific sectors to discuss this issue.


I would like to submit the testimony from that forum for today’s Subcommittee hearing record.


In closing, I look forward to learning more today about what safety standards and practices we have in place to handle a natural disaster at any of our nuclear power plants, and, importantly, what Japan’s ongoing challenges can tell us about our own planning.