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Feinstein To Hold Hearings On Nuclear Safety

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Aired 3/24/11

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants to reconsider whether the United States needs a national repository for spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants to reconsider whether the United States needs national repositories for spend fuel rods from nuclear power plants.

Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks during an appearance in downtown San Diego on March 23, 2011.
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Above: Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks during an appearance in downtown San Diego on March 23, 2011.

Feinstein, a Democrat, said she changed her mind on the matter after visiting San Onofre, 60 miles north of downtown San Diego, this week. She said 7.4 million people live within 50 miles of the nuclear power plant.

Feinstein was shown how spent fuel rods are stored at San Onofre, first in deep pools of water and then in dry casks in concrete. She said that she has confidence in the staff at San Onofre, but the safety of storing spent fuel on site and the ability to withstand unknown disasters need to be reviewed.

“In California, we have no national repository for waste," Feinstein said. “I have always thought we didn’t need one. Yesterday, candidly, changed my mind. I believe we do need one.”

The senator said she was a small child when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and she remembered the safety drills well.

“My goal one day is to see a nuclear-weapons free country,” she said. “But at the same time, if nuclear is going to become a much more regular part of everyone’s life, its safety has to be assured to the 'nth' degree, and I don’t believe we are there yet.”

Feinstein said she will raise the issue of national nuclear waste repositories next week at the Energy Appropriations Subcommittee. She was recently appointed its chair.

A national repository in Yucca Mountain in Nevada was debated for years, but the President recently withdrew funding to develop the site. Feinstein said she was not necessarily suggesting that site is the best solution.

Feinstein said the lessons learned from the nuclear crisis in Japan convince her the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to rethink the way nuclear plants are designed to withstand future disasters. She said, in her view, nuclear safety is now one of the most serious issues on the national agenda.

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