OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR TIM HUTCHINSON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would also like to extend my thanks to the panel members for taking time out of their busy schedules to be with us. I am extremely pleased that we are having this hearing today. Everyone here knows of the great importance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and I believe that it has been far too long since we have taken a close look at what is working well at the NRC and what we can improve upon.

I see today's hearing not as an end in and of itself, hut as a starting point for dialogue and reform that this Subcommittee and the entire Congress will continue to follow up on in the future.

Accounting for approximately 20% of the nation's electric power generation, nuclear power is generated in all but 18 states. In my home state of Arkansas, nuclear power accounts for nearly a third of all electricity generated.

Nuclear power has the potential to become even more important to the United States in the future. While scientists remain divided as to whether human activities are causing global warming, it is clear that nuclear power would be a, if not the only, viable alternative to fossil fuel generated power. Currently we derive 55 percent of our electricity just from coal and any shift away would require an increase in output from another source. The experiences of countries such as France and Sweden demonstrate that nuclear power could fill this void.

As the independent agency charged with ensuring the safety of nuclear plants, the NRC plays a vital role in nuclear power generation. Because of the great importance of nuclear power and the obvious need to maintain stringent levels of protection and safety, I am deeply concerned about the manner in which nuclear plants are currently being evaluated. I am worried about reports that assessments of nuclear plants are not being administered in a consistent and objective manner.

When assessments are made not on the basis of objective criteria, but on subjective and arbitrary measures, the very ability to the NRC to tell the difference between a safe and unsafe plant is caller! into question.

I believe we must do all we can to ensure that nuclear power is generated in a safe manner which protects the health of the public. I am not in favor of any relaxation or easement of safety standards. Quite to the contrary, I believe that nuclear plants should be required to maintain an extremely high standard of safety. The NRC must do a better job, however, of assessing plants in a consistent and fair manner.

One of the most often heard criticisms of the NRC is that decisions take entirely too long to be made. I looked up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in my United States Government Manual, and found that one of the Congressionally charged duties of the NRC is to make "timely regulatory judgements".

I understand that in response to recent criticisms the NRC has been examining ways in which it can do better job of regulating the nuclear industry. In testimony submitted for this hearing Chairman Jackson states that the NRC agrees that it must become more efficient and accelerate the pace of decision-making. I commend the NRC for its willingness to consider new ways to improve itself. I would caution, however, that such openness to criticism is meaningless, unless real change actually occurs.

I am confident that with the input of the NRC, the nuclear industry, other interested groups and of Congress, we will be able to effectively address those problems that will be discussed today. Again, I would like to thank the Chairman for calling this hearing today and I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.