The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday voted to shut down all operating nuclear power plants in any state that cannot come up with an approved emergency evacuation plan within six months.
The 6-to-4 vote would also halt the issuance of new operating licenses in those states, but would not affect the granting of construction permits.At the moment, 16 states with 24 operating reactors have not received the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval for any safety plan, while 12 states with 29 power plants for six months beginning Oct. 1.
Utilities opening nuclear power plants now must outline an emergency plan, including evacuation procedures, and the NRC must approve it before any operating license is issued. However, there is no requirement that state or local authorities adopt such a plan, although they are encouraged to do so.
The Senate committee members wrangled over whether six months is enough time to allow a comprehensive plan to be developed, but sponsoring Sen. Gary W. Hart (D-Colo.) noted that "three big fat books" of NRC guidelines exist to aid states in setting up their programs.
"We simply should not have a nuclear plant operating in this country without a sufficient evacuation plan," Hart said. "This seems to me elementary, and I'm ashamed we haven't had it long ago."
Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) argued that the measure would be "a terribly punitive act . . . a change in the ground rules" under which the plants went into operation. But committee Chairman Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W. Va.) said it was "a step-by-step approach" that had his complete agreement.
The decision, in the form of an amendment to the NRC's $373.3 million 1980 budget authorization, was one of several changes in NRC operations voted by the committee. It decided, by unanimous voice vote, to require a resident NRC inspector at every operating reactor and at those being tested before going into operation.
It also would order the NRC to submit, within 90 days, a plan to monitor in Washington all principal safety instruments and radiation measuring devices in all operating plants, to come up with a plan for improved training programs for reactor operators and to contract for an independent study of NRC management, procedures and overall functioning.
The committee also voted to authorize $401,000 for a special Senate probe into the nuclear accident March 28 at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennysylvania.
Under another provision of the budget bill, the NRC would be asked to draw up a law, subject to congressional approval, that would allow it to take over the operation of a nuclear power plant under emergency conditions.
Meanwhile, yesterday, the NRC was informed by its staff that leaks in the pipes carrying cooling water out of the shut-down reactor at Three Mile Island have caused a buildup of almost six feet of contaminated water inside the concrete containment building.
The five-member NRC was told that radioactive water is leaking into the containment at a rate of about one gallon a minute, which means the water level is rising the basement of the containment of about half an inch a day. This means the water will have to be pumped out of the building sometime in the near future before it begins to flood the machinery inside the building.
Vic Stello, NRC's chief of reactor safety, told the commission that the leaks will lessen when the pressure inside the reactor vessel is lowered. Stello said the pressure is between 900 and 1,000 pounds per square inch but that it will be dropped later this month.