Senators Introduce Bill to Improve International Nuclear Safety

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Thomas Carper (D-Delaware) introduced the Furthering International Nuclear Safety Act of 2011 yesterday, a bill that would enhance worldwide cooperation on nuclear safety. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) intends to introduce a companion bill later this month in the House of Representatives.  

Senator Akaka said: “The unfolding nuclear emergency in Japan reminds us that we must be vigilant about the safety of nuclear facilities worldwide. Twenty-five years ago, the Chernobyl disaster prompted international nuclear safety cooperation, and these recent events underscore the need to continue improving international efforts. This bill would build on the international Convention on Nuclear Safety by improving information sharing, strategic planning, and performance evaluation, so nations can work together to prevent nuclear catastrophe.”  

Senator Carper said: “Over the past several years, the United States has made enormous strides in building a culture of safety within the nuclear industry in large part because of the concerted effort by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make safety a number one priority at our nation’s 104 nuclear reactors. However, the recent problems with the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan are a sobering reminder that nuclear facilities are always vulnerable to unexpected disasters whether natural or man-made. I’m a firm believer in the notion that ‘everything I do, I know I can do better,’ and the nuclear industry is no exception. It is, therefore, timely that the United States takes the lead in the global effort to promote nuclear safety.”  

Representative Fortenberry said: “As Japan’s post-earthquake emergency shows, nuclear facilities remain vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. Nuclear safety needs to improve globally; humanity cannot afford the costs of failure. With this legislation, the United States can help lead cooperative efforts to share information and plans to ensure the world’s current fleet of nuclear reactors are operated as safely as possible. I look forward to introducing a companion soon in the House.”  

The Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, is a multilateral treaty that seeks to improve civilian nuclear power reactor safety worldwide.  Participating countries are required to submit reports on the steps taken to implement the Convention and meet periodically to review the reports. The United States joined in 1999.  

Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report requested by Senator Akaka entitled “Nuclear Safety: Convention on Nuclear Safety is Viewed by Most Member Countries as Strengthening Safety Worldwide.” The Furthering International Nuclear Safety Act of 2011 supports the Convention and responds to a number of the key findings, recommendations, and survey responses found in the GAO report.    

Under the bill, United States representative to the Convention would encourage:

  • the use of performance metrics for countries to assess their own nuclear safety progress; 
  • increased public availability of information about nuclear safety efforts; 
  • the International Atomic Energy Agency to provide additional support for safety, when possible; and 
  • all countries that have or are considering a civilian nuclear power program to join the Convention.   

The bill would also require a United States Government strategic plan for international cooperation on nuclear power safety.   

Akaka is Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia. Carper is Chairman of Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. Fortenberry is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.