Newspaper: The Sentinel

Date: April 10. 1979

Article: Action promised by NRC's Hendrie

Author: United Press International


WASHINGTON (UPI) - Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph Hendrie promised Congress today his agency will "take whatever steps are necessary" to prevent accidents like the one that crippled the Three Mile Island power plant.

But, he said, "operator errors" caused the March 28 mishap and there is no need to shut down other atomic plants of the same design.

"We believe there is reasonable assurance that the plants can continue to operate without danger to the public health and safety," he told the Senate Nuclear Regulation Subcommittee.

HENDRIE SAID the government should examine the regulatory framework for nuclear power instead of "just thinking of improved hardware or other technical fixes" as a means of preventing future accidents.
"We cannot tolerate accidents of this kind and we must take whatever steps are necessary to prevent them," he testified.

Hendrie called for a re-examination of the ability of all nuclear plants to deal with emergencies, upgrading training for reactor operators, increasing emphasis on safety regulations in the steam-producing units of such plants and reviewing NRC licensing procedures. Hendrie revealed that some members of the NRC "senior staff and various commissioners" had proposed either stronger warnings to "or actual evacuation of people within a two or five-mile circle around Three Mile Island" between March 30 and April 1.

BUT HE SAID because NRC staff members at the plant were more optimistic, he did not recommend that Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh order the evacuation.

Subcommittee chairman Gary Hart, D-Colo., said in opening the hearing that while the NRC is on trial, so is Congress. But he added, "This investigation will be neither a witch-hunt nor a cover-up."

Hart and Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W. Va., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked the Senate Monday to authorize a special investigation of the Pennsylvania power plant accident and for the extra money to pay for it.

"Although the president has announced the creation of an independent commission of experts to study the accident, it cannot replace the Congress' obligation," Hart said.

The subcommittee has oversight responsibility over the commission, meaning it approves its budget and has authority to raise questions about its operations.

HART SAID THE subcommittee's questions would include:

- How the accident happened and whether there were early warnings.
- Whether the commission should have responded sooner.
- Why state and local evacuation plans had not been tested in accordance with federal regulations.
- Whether the commission depends too much on utility company information in setting license requirements.
- Who should play for the accident and the cleanup.