WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey is asking for a congressional investigation of whether evacuation planning has kept pace with population growth and increased power levels around nuclear power plants.
Mr. Casey's request was prompted by an Associated Press investigative series on aging nuclear reactors. The series earlier this week reported that population within 10 miles of U.S. plants has risen an average of 62 percent over the past 30 years. Population more that doubled at 12 of 65 sites -- with population at one site increasing more than 4 1/2 times since 1980.
Mr. Casey, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Joint Economic Committee, requested an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which acts as the investigative arm of Congress. He posed similar questions to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which jointly oversee emergency planning at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors.
In his letter Tuesday to the GAO, Mr. Casey, whose state is home to nine operating reactors, said emergency procedures are unclear for a nuclear accident. "Many nuclear plants in the United States were intentionally built away from population and economic centers. As our country has grown, more of our citizens live in proximity to those plants. These new demographic realities require a re-examination of our security protocols," he wrote.
Five other U.S. senators last week asked for the GAO to investigate whether the NRC has relaxed safety standards to keep aging nuclear plants operating within the rules, as the AP had reported. They also questioned whether federal oversight is aggressive enough.
The peeling back of standards was the subject of another installment in the AP series, outlining how the industry and the NRC have been working in concert to weaken or disregard safety standards to keep aging plants operating. The AP also reported that leaks of radioactive tritium, often from corroded underground piping, have occurred at three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites.
The NRC and industry have challenged the series' findings. The NRC has defended its safety standards as strict. The leading industry group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, has attacked the AP findings as biased.
In its story about population growth, the AP reported that some estimates of evacuation times have not been updated in decades.
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