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With respect to knowledge of the reactor designs, themselves, I commented previously that the Russian reactor is quite unique. It is a Russian reactor design of the water-cooled, graphite-moderated, and open-boiling water reactor cycle, which is unique to the U.S.S.R., built in the U.S.S.R., and to U.S.S.R. safety standards.
For example, the ignition of the graphite moderator and the causing of the fire which has been reported in the media, certainly would not be a common type of event for U.S. commercial pressurized water reactors where we use both water as the coolant and the moderator, and with quite a completely different set of design concepts and safety standards, which I described earlier in response to Senator Domenici's question.
We will, of course, continue to carefully evaluate design differences as we learn more facts, to make sure we leave no stone unturned as to lessons learned.
Senator EVANS. I guess more explicitly, do you believe we have sufficient information now to guide us in terms of any potential difficulties, fallout, problems that might impinge on this country? Do we need more? If we do need more, are we asking for it?
Mr. VAUGHAN. Are you using fallout in the sense of atmospheric dispersal, or are you using it in the sense of lessons learned from this event?
Senator EVANS. No, primarily the former. I presume as time goes on, the scientific community has a pretty good way eventually of learning things. I am more interested in the immediacy now of potential problems and whether we have all the information that we should be getting.
Mr. VAUGHAN. We, of course, have put systems in motion to monitor the atmospheric conditions to make sure that there aren't any problems to the health and safety of people in the United States. Beyond that, it will depend on additional, precise information coming out of the Soviet Union, which we don't yet have.
Senator EVANS. Do we know at this time whether there is any continuing discharge of radioactivity into the atmosphere?
Mr. VAUGHAN. The presumption from the press reports, which we believe to be accurate, is that the graphite fire is continuing to burn. It is possible that if it was a severe reactor accident, most of the fission products that have existed have quite possibly already been dispersed—because it is postulated that the event probably occurred last Saturday.
Senator EVANS. It seems to me, in that statement there is a lot of speculation. And I guess I am just curious as to why we have not made a direct inquiry. You may not get a direct answer, but I hope we have at least made the direct inquiry to elicit as much information as would be necessary or helpful for us in responding.
Mr. VAUGHAN. Those queries are underway, but we don't have the feedback at this time.
Senator DOMENICI. Senator Hecht?
Senator WARNER. Let's look at this thing from the worse case hypothesis. Now you know basically the type of technology, the type of reactor. Given the worse case, could that generate any type of
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radioactive fallout that could be detrimental the United States or other continental land masses?
Mr. VAUGHAN. Senator Warner, my opinion is that that is extremely unlikely.
Senator WARNER. So we should have no cause for alarm here in the United States. I do not believe we should have any great cause for alarm. I believe that our monitoring capability is sufficient that it would give us enough early warning if it were to occur.
I would note, again, that the comment that I understand the Scandanavian countries have made is, that although their very sensitive equipment monitored noticeably higher than background levels, notwithstanding, they believe that the levels they were monitoring posed no health and safety problems to their citizens.
Senator WARNER. The purpose of the question is that we should try and alleviate any fear among our own citizens here in the United States, if this type of accident could generate a situation that would be detrimental to the health and welfare of our people.
And your answer to that is no.
Mr. VAUGHAN. That is correct. In my best judgment. Obviously, I don't have all the facts at hand.
Senator DOMENICI. Senator McClure, did you have any questions on this first round. It was brought upon us not by plan here, as you understand, but by the events of yesterday?
The CHAIRMAN. I don't want to repeat what you have already asked in the excellent set of questions you asked, drawing some parallels, because I am afraid many people will try to draw parallels between this accident and U.S. experience. I think the point to be made and I think the point made in response to your questions was it is very hard to make comparisons because they are so radically and totally different. It is like comparing apples and oranges in very real terms.
I don't remember exactly, but I notice that the news report re ferred to an earlier nuclear incident in the Soviet Union, which as I recall was not associated with a powerplant at all.
Mr. VAUGHAN. My understanding of that incident, which I have not recently reviewed but have in the past, is that it occurred in the late 1950's and was more likely associated with a fuel processing plant, or something of that nature, as contrasted to a power generating source.
The CHAIRMAN. It was a materials production plant; could have been either for fuels or for military purposes. We are uncertain which, but it was not a powerplant. Mr. VAUGHAN. That is my understanding, also, Senator McClure.
The CHAIRMAN. Again, apples and oranges and perhaps lemonsI am not sure.
We have nothing in this country that is identical with the Soviet plants, and our civilian powerplants all have both different design in terms of the reaction that occurs within them, and also in theyou have referred to safety standards. We have very strict standards in containment.
I notice, some people will immediately attempt to make some comparisons between this and what might have happened at TMI, or what did happen at TMI.
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I think the fact will be that what we have perceived in Sweden, or what the Swedish officials have detected is radiation levels above the radiation levels that were measured at the fence at TMI, am I correct?
Mr. VAUGHAN. I think that is correct. It is our understanding, also.
The CHAIRMAN. So, comparisons are very difficult to make because they are so radically different in technical basis as well as in design, and as well as in the extent of the accident.
Mr. VAUGHAN. I agree with your analysis. I think it is a good, succinct analysis.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator DOMENICI. Thank you. Senator Wallop, we were engaged in permitting Senators who might want to ask about the nuclear accident in the Soviet Union, before we got to the business at hand, if they had a question or two of the witnesses. We are completing that now. Does the Senator desire to ask on that issue, and then proceed to the-
Senator WALLOP. Mr. Chairman, I probably would but I would be certain to ask what has already been asked. I was up trying to see to it that we don't give away the entire store to the People's Republic of China without contemplating our ally and friend, Taiwan, in the Foreign Relations Committee- I missed this.
I am certain that as this unfolds, the dimension of it will grow rather than shrink. Is that fair-from what is presently being stated in the public press? Mr. VAUGHAN. I think that that is probably a fair judgment.
Senator WALLOP. Also, I happen to see Mr. Medvedev, on the Today Show this morning, on which he made the statement that the Soviets did not use containment vessels because their technology was foolproof, much more sophisticated than ours.
You see how much you have been delaying us in the process of building nuclear powerplants in this country by making excess requirements like containment vessels. [General laughter.]
Seriously, I think that it demonstrates the strength of the American nuclear technology and the process that we have been undergo
Mr. VAUGHAN. We believe there are a lot of things that demonstrate that, not the least of which is, I believe, the very careful quality control we put into the design, manufacture and inspection of the equipment that goes in the plants.
We certainly don't have the data to know whether the Russians apply the same standards and levels of inspection. Some of their statements indicate that they can build the materials in these plants at almost any commercial facilities, as contrasted to the specialized facilities and specialized inspection techniques that we have. It might lead one to believe that if the standards are not as high, but certainly that is speculation on our part.
Senator WALLOP. Mr. Chairman, one last question. Do we know if this was a plutonium plant or a generating plant?
Mr. VAUGHAN. The press has reported that the plant was used for commercial power production, but perhaps with a concomitant purpose of making plutonium. We do not know that for sure, but
the design of the plant would indicate that that would be a possibility. Senator WALLOP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Chairman, could I ask unanimous consent at this point that my opening statement appear in the record following your opening statement?
Senator DOMENICI. Without objection.
Let me suggest to the members of the committee and the subcommittee, and in the presence of the chairman of the full committee; perhaps, Mr. Chairman, as the information on this accident becomes more familiar and available, it might be well that this subcommittee, or at your pleasure, the full committee, convene on short notice and try to, before this committee and for the American public, through this committee, learn any additional information that you find or I find in talking with the administration, ought to be presented.
I think it is urgent that all distinctions between what they have and what happened there and anything that has ever happened here be forthcoming in an official way, before a committee such as this, rather than we wait around for a long periods of time. I personally, subject to your direction, would ask the staff of this subcommittee to do that.
If the chairman prefers to do it in the full committee, I certainly will defer.
The CHAIRMAN. If the Senator would yield, I do believe it is important that we give the American public as much information as it possible for us to give, not only on what happened, but what implications that has for our programs, if indeed it has any. I would be happy to work with you and with Senator Johnston to make certain that this committee functions in such a way that we can give that kind of information to the American people.
Senator JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman.
Senator DOMENICI. Would you defer on that? I have just been told that I have to go to the floor, so I understand Senator McClure will preside.
I have a statement with reference to the subject matter that we are going to discuss; that is, the scope of this hearing with reference to programs of the Department as they relate to their budget requests. I am going to ask that it be made a part of the record, and apologize for having to leave, but I understand, Senator McClure, that you have some time to preside in my absence. And I greatly appreciate that.
[The prepared statements of Senator Domenici and Senator McClure follow:]
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STATEMENT OF HON. PETE V. DOMENICI, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF NEW
MEXICO Good morning. Today we will be receiving testimony from the Administration on various aspects of the Department of Energy programs, including its budget request for fiscal year 1987, that relate to nuclear energy and radioactive waste disposal. May I say at the outset that, while we may be tempted today to talk more about Russian nuclear technology and safety standards, rather than its U.S. counterpart, we really must try to stick to the business at hand. But first, before we go on, I
think this might be a good opportunity for us to take a moment to ask our expert witnesses if they have learned any more about the Russian reactor incident at Chernobyl?
(1) Please compare the design features, safety features, and safety standards, of the Russian reactors to our own commercial reactors.
(2) If the Russian incident does involve a radioactive fire, why is that not a likely scenario for U.S. reactors?
(3) Even if a fire were to develop somehow in a U.S. reactor, what is the likelihood of a radioactive release to the environment, in view of our requirements for containment structures?
Now let's get back to the business at hand. The nuclear programs for which the Department of Energy assumes responsibility represents a full platter of activities, ranging from remedial actions to advanced reactor concepts to military applications—and from the “front end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, that being uranium enrichment services, to the "back end” of the fuel cycle, that being the geologic disposal of high level radioactive waste.
The full spectrum of programs undertaken by the Department of Energy necessitates an airing of a wide range of views from Administration witnesses in order for this Committee to adequately assess the value and focus of each program element. It is for these reasons that we will receive testimony today from several Administration sources, including the Department's Office of Nuclear Energy, the Department's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, and the Air Force.
We will begin with the testimony of Mr. Ben Rusche, Director of the Department's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Mr. Rusche, it is a pleasure to have you here before us today—and let me add that, based on all I've heard about your activities of late, I think we may already have a "platter full” just hearing what has transpired in your Office over the last six months, without ever hearing what you have in store for us during the upcoming fiscal year! So we'd better get started.
STATEMENT OF HON. JAMES A. MCCLURE, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure to join you today to receive testimony from the Administration concerning the FY 87 budget request and program plans for the Department of Energy's nuclear activities.
I would like to start off by commenting that this country has a truly enviable record in nuclear energy research, development, and deployment. We now have more nuclear power plants in operation than any other country in the world. We forged the way for this and other countries to take full advantage of the nuclear option. (Unfortunately, one of the countries that did not follow our lead in technolo gy or in safety standards is Russia, which I fear is regretting that decision today.) We now have the capability of resolving the few remaining safety questions concerning nuclear power plant operations-a feat that I'm not sure any other technology can hold a candle to. And we still maintain a cadre of scientific and engineering experts that can tackle any challenge that nuclear technology can offer.
As I study the Department's budget request and research program plans for fiscal year 1987, I am at the same time awed by the breadth of activities and amazed by the leanness of the dollar figures. The incredible array of research and development needs that will be met by a funding level of less than half of the amount we required only five years ago tells me one of two things: Either we had been squandering money in years past, when research areas were more narrow, or we are following ourselves today into somehow thinking we can spread our resources this thin and still maintain credible programs.
Let me pause at this point to add that I applaud the Department's goals in every single one of the program areas that are planned for in the '87 budget request. I am merely concerned that we are squeezing our resources so tightly that something will be lost in the pursuit of all these goals unless we are able to fund each and every one at the threshold level at which they will truly produce results. And so it is my hope that this Committee, in gaining a more thorough perspective on the Department's research elements, can perhaps help the Department to avoid the fate of spreading its resources too thin.
I might add that, with respect to the Department's other nuclear programs in the areas of remedial action, uranium enrichment, and nuclear waste disposal, I realize that these programs also have their own unique pressure points, and that responsible business management, careful allocation of resources, and attention to public