Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Congressman Hall's strange bed fellow

Now, why is our fiercely anti-nuclear leader, Congressman Jon Hall, on the stage at NoNukes in 1980... on the campaign trail with Bonnie Raitt, a founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, tirelessly working to shut down Indian Point, suddenly on the fence and in league with Congressman Chris Shays over the reasons for an Independent Safety Assessment, when Congressman Shays is openly pro-nuclear? Isn't that letting the fox in the hen house?

Congressman Christopher Shays

Sent: Friday, May 11, 2007

Congressman Christopher Shays
May 11, 2007

Thank you for contacting me expressing support for closing the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan, New York. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me, as well as your patience in awaiting my reply.

Although I do not support closing Indian Point, I believe it is imperative we make security for the plant as safe and comprehensive as possible. For this reason, I am an original cosponsor of H.R. 994, which would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to conduct an Independent Safety Assessment of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

You may be interested to know, in the 108th Congress, I joined members of the New York congressional delegation calling on the NRC to temporarily suspend Indian Point operations pending an independent review of the New York and Indian Point emergency preparedness plans.

Although Indian Point operations were not temporarily suspended, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and NRC approved the emergency preparedness plans, I determined a congressional review of nuclear power plant facility security was still needed.

As Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, National Security Subcommittee, I have held several hearings to measure the scope and pace of post-9/11 safeguard improvements in and around reactor sites such as Indian Point.

I held an oversight hearing on April 4, 2006, entitled "Nuclear Security: Has the NRC Strengthened Facility Standards Since 9/11?" in which we asked specifically how the NRC and the nuclear power industry are maintaining readiness against a changing threat.Public safety, public health and the protection of critical infrastructure are all factors that need to be part of the discussion.

At the request of the committee the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an in-depth examination of the process used by the NRC to update the Design Basus Threat (DBT) standard, the industry response to new security mandates and the rigor of inspections and drills used to test security force readiness.The GAO findings painted a decidedly mixed picture of nuclear power security.

Substantial improvements have been made since September 11, 2001, and since adoption of the new DBT in 2003. Buffer zones have been augmented where possible, barriers have been thickened, detection equipment installed or upgraded. Protective forces have been enlarged and armed with new weapons and smarter strategies.

But, according to the GAO, it may be too early to claim success since fewer than half the 65 NRC-regulated sites have been tested against a live adversary in what are called force-on-force exercises. And those tested did not always perform as well as expected, even in necessarily artificial, fully noticed drills conducted in broad daylight. GAO also found that stronger security standards did not necessarily mean the NRC had sufficiently fortified itself against the dangers of an overly cozy relationship with the industry.

While still drafting the new Design Basis Threat, the Commission solicited outside comments, creating the appearance industry was influencing the threat assessment process with extraneous cost concerns. the regulated should never even appear to be able to dictate security standards to the regulator. But this is more than a question of appearance. Only the rigor and independence of the NRC process guarantee the integrity of the product.

Nevertheless, the Commission continues to resist the GAO recommendation to develop explicit criteria for decisions altering DBT standards.I believe the NRC can do more to prevent potential terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants and will continue to actively monitor them to ensure they do not lower their threat standards. Please do not hesitate to contact my office again. Because mail is delayed by Anthrax screening, e-mails, phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits are the most effective ways to communicate with my office.

I also have a periodic e-newsletter and would be happy to send it to you. To request this e-newsletter, and for other information, please visit my website at

Christopher Shays
Member of Congress

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