April 2011 – TESTIMONY OF MARTIN VIRGILIO – NRC RESPONSE TO RECENT NUCLEAR EVENTS IN JAPAN AND THE CONTINUING SAFETY OF THE U.S. COMMERCIAL NUCLEAR REACTOR FLEET

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TESTIMONY OF MARTIN VIRGILIO
DEPUTY EXECUTIVE-DIRECTOR FOR REACTOR AND PREPAREDNESS PROGRAMS
UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
TO THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE
NRC RESPONSE TO RECENT NUCLEAR EVENTS IN JAPAN AND THE CONTINUING
SAFETY OF THE U.S. COMMERCIAL NUCLEAR REACTOR FLEET
APRIL,.2011

The staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is deeply saddened by the tragedy in Japan. I and many of my colleagues on the NRC staff have had many years of very close and personal interaction with our regulatory counterparts and we would like to extend our condolences to them.

Introduction

The NRC is mindful that our primary responsibility is to ensure the adequate protection of the public health and safety of the American people. We have been very closely monitoring the activities in Japan and reviewing all currently available information. Review of this information, combined with our ongoing inspection and licensing oversight, allows us to say with confidence that the U.S. plants continue to operate safely. There has been no reduction in the licensing or oversight function of the NRC as it relates to any of the U.S. licensees.

We have a long history of conservative regulatory decision-making. We have been using risk insights to help inform our regulatory process, and, over more than 35 years of civilian nuclear power in this country, we have never stopped making improvements to our regulatory framework as we learn from operating experience.

Notwithstanding the very high level of support being provided to respond to events in Japan, we continue to maintain our focus on our domestic responsibilities.

I’d like to begin with a brief overview of our immediate and continuing response, including our recommendation for U.S. Citizens in Japan to evacuate out to 50 miles from the Fukushim-Daiichi site. I then want to spend the bulk •f my time diScs•zgW IIId.i.s cuss the reasons for our confidence in the safety of the U. S. commercial nuclear reactor fleet, and the path forward that we will take to ensure we learn any lessons we need to from events in Japan. Finally, I will yive you an overview of NRC incident response capabilities here in the U.S.

The NRC’s immediate and Continuing Response to Events in Japan

On Friday, March 1 1th an earthquake hit Japan, resulting in the shutdown of more than 10 reactors. From what we know now, it appears possible that the reactors’ response to the earthquake went according to design. The ensuing tsunami, however, appears to have caused the loss of normal and emergency AC power to the six units at the Fukushima Daiichi site; it is those six units that have received the majority of our attention since that time. Units
One, Two, and Three at the site were in operation at the time of the earthquake. Units Four, Five, and Six were in previously scheduled outages.

Shortly after 4:00 AM EDT on Friday, March 1 lth, the NRC Emergency Operations Center made the first call, informing NRC management of the earthquake and the potential impact on U.S. plants. We went into the monitoring mode at the Emergency Operations Center and the first concern for the NRC was possible impacts of the tsunami on U.S. plants and radioactive materials on the West Coast, and in Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. Territories in the Pacific.

On that same day, we began interactions with our Japanese regulatory counterparts and dispatched two experts to help at the U.S. embassy in Japan. By Monday, we had dispatched a total of 11 staff to Japan. We have subsequently rotated in additional replacement staff to continue our on-the-ground assistance in Japan. The areas of focus for this team are: 1) to assist the Japanese government with technical support as part of the including our recommendation for U.S. Citizens in Japan to evacuate out to 50 miles from the Fukushim-Daiichi site.

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