Statement of Jeffrey S. Merrifield,
Nominated to be a Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today as one of President Clinton's two nominees to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling this hearing so promptly on our nominations. It is a privilege to be here today.

Coming, as I do, from New Hampshire, I am well aware of the role played by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in protecting the health and safety of the public in the licensed use of nuclear materials. As you know, Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, which received its operating license in 1990 (the 3rd most recently licensed plant), was the subject of significant public debate in my state.

When I came to work in the Senate for former Senator Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire in 1986, my first job was answering the mountain of constituent mail regarding Seabrook. Although I was a correspondent for only a brief period of time, the memory of all of those letters is still quite clear to me. As you can imagine, the opinion of our constituents ranged from vocal opponents to strong supporters of nuclear power. Frequently, their letters urged the NRC to act on one side or another of a particular regulatory decision.

Of the thousands of letters we received, some of them were from individuals who disagreed with positions taken by the NRC. However, I remember very few, if any, that called into question the integrity and objectivity of the NRC or its Commissioners. I believe that is very telling. In the time I have worked in the Senate, both on and off the Environment Committee, as well as the time I spent as a litigator in the private sector, I have consistently heard the message that the NRC is an agency that has earned the trust of the public. Indeed, the NRC has developed a well deserved reputation that it can be relied upon for fair and scientifically based decision making.

To prepare for this hearing, I took the time to read the record of the nomination hearings of the other Commissioners over the last few years. In his nomination statement seven years ago, former NRC Chairman Ivan Selin made the following statement:

I would like to associate myself completely with former Chairman Selin's statement. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed by the Senate, I will use his statement as a guiding principal in fulfilling my duties as an NRC Commissioner.

Despite the positive reputation that it has developed over the years, the NRC cannot take a solitary role in maintaining full public confidence in the safety of nuclear power. Indeed, the nuclear industry must also assume equal responsibility for taking the steps necessary to maintain the trust of the American public.

Following the March 28, 1979 incident at Three Mile Island, President Carter asked Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the father of our nuclear Navy, to review this matter and provide his analysis of the lessons learned from this incident. I believe that there is one passage in his report that is particularly instructive:

Mr. Chairman, I believe that statement was correct then, and almost 20 years later, it is still correct.

Much has changed at the NRC over these last 20 years. Most importantly, the scope of the NRC's work has evolved from a nuclear power plant and material licensing agency to the regulator of an operating nuclear industry. Within the next few years, the NRC will be faced with a significant number of new challenges. As you know, there are a number of plant owners that have filed for renewal of their licenses and others who have decided to decommission their facilities. The NRC will have to take an active role in determining whether or not plant relicensing can be accomplished in a manner that is fully protective of the health and safety of the individuals who live and work near these facilities. Similarly, the interest of the public will continue to be preeminent in making decisions associated with facilities undergoing decommissioning.

Another potential challenge for the NRC in the next few years is a proposal to have the NRC become an external regulator for a number of Department of Energy facilities. While there are some who believe that this will provide greater public confidence in DOE's cleanup program, I am not predisposed either way on whether the NRC should assume such a role. Like others, I am interested in reviewing the results of the external regulation pilot projects that will be made available by DOE over the course of the next year. It is certainly possible that these pilot projects will result in a recommendation to increase the interaction between the NRC and DOE. If this is indeed the case, this will be a significant issue that the NRC will need to grapple with over the next few years.

Since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the NRC has taken a greater role in the international arena to assist both Russia as well as former members of the Eastern Bloc to modernize their safety procedures, fuel handling practices and training. While there are some who question this role, we should be proud that the United States has an agency that the world looks to for leadership on these important safety and health issues. Given the significant cross-boundary impact that nuclear incidents can have, I believe that it is vital that the NRC continue to be looked at as a leader in this area.

Over the last few months, there has been a renewed Congressional interest in conducting oversight of the NRC. While there are some who think that Congressional scrutiny is to be greeted with fear and loathing, I believe that a frank and straightforward dialogue between a regulated agency and its Congressional oversight committee can be good for both Congress as well as the agency. If I am given the privilege of being confirmed for this position, I would be pleased to come back here to testify at any time you so desire.

In summary, I believe we are entering a very dynamic and critical time period at the NRC. I would be excited and eager to play a role in addressing these important issues. If I have the privilege to be confirmed for this position, I am hopeful that my experience and background will contribute to the confidence and integrity that we have come to expect from the NRC.

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.