The House Interior Committee yesterday voted to ban construction of nuclear power plants for six months, beginning Oct. 1, while the government attempts to overhaul its regulatory procedures.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) predicted "over-whelming support" for the ban when it reaches the House floor.
The 23-to-7vote came on an amendment offered by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who said it would affect six proposed plants in four states: Massachusetts, Texas, Oregon and Arizona. The dealy would cost each plant about $8 million per month, he said.
"This is the start of zero-base analysis of nuclear power," Markey said. "It would be myopic of us to let the industry keep growing with the same kinds of procedures that were in effect before Three Mile Island.
The March 28 near-disaster at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pa., was "traumatic" for the public, Markey said, and was a warning we should not ignore." While the event is being studied, "we should pause in a responsible fashion and delay new construction permits."
The amendment, which was attached to the Nuclear Regulatory Commision's 1980 budget authorization, would allow operating licenses to be issued normally and plants now under construction to proceed. Operating plants would not be affected, nor would five construction permits scheduled to be issued before Oct. 1.
The NRC identified those proposed plants as Perkins I, II and III in Davie County, N.C., and Black Fox I and II near Tulsa, Okla. A total of 92 reactors are currently being built.
"There is a go-slow feeling on nuclear [power] now," O'Neill told reporters after the vote. Markey's amendment speaks to an issue that "transcends party lines," he said. "I would say it would pass . . . I see overwhelming support for it."
The amendment had failed earlier in an Interior subcommittee, largely because of the opposition of committee Chairman Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.). He abstained from voting yesterday, telling the committee that not enough was known yet for Congress to take a credible stand on the issue of nuclear power.
"If this were the only vote we were going to cast, today I would vote for a moratorium," Udall said. "But I see a lot of votes further down the road." As it stood, he added, the amendment was "symbolic, trying to send a message" to the thousands of antinuclear demonstrators who came to Washington last weekend.
Scott Peters, a spokesman for the Atomic Industrial Forum, the industry trade association, noted that the measure "has a long way to go" before becoming law. "Symbolism doesn't make nuclear power plants safer," he said. "It doesn't seem logical that we are looking for ways to further delay our energy supply for symbolic reasons."
Francis Wiedenmann, a spokesman for Boston Edison Co., which owns the proposed Pilgrim II plant near Plymouth, Mass., told the Associated Press the ban is "silly . . . It would serve no purpose in terms of safety. The vote simply means that the NRC would take a vacation."
In other action, the commitee voted to make utilities pay the government's costs of its safety inspections through a fee to the NRC. In its report on the budget authorization, the commitee will ask the NRC to set up an emergency communications network and to study ways to allow the NRC to assume command of individual nuclear plants during emergencies.
Later in the day, the antinuclear group Critical Mass, part of consumer activist Ralph Nader's organization, petitioned the NRC to shut down operating plants that have inedequate emergency evacuation plans. Approved plans should be required before any new operating licenses are issued, the petition said, and all existing plans should be revealed fully to the public and tested with evacuation drills.
"If a plant [area] can't be evacuated because there are too many people, it should be closed down," said Nader at a news conference. Nine plants would be candidates for shutdown under this proposal, said Critical Mass director Richard Pollock, including Indian Point plant near New York City and the Zion facility near Chicago. CAPTION: Picture, RALPH NADER . . . nine candidates for shutdown