Statement of U.S. Senator Harry Reid

Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Oversight Hearing

Wednesday, February 12, 2003


Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for calling this hearing today


Under former Chairman Jeffords’ leadership, this committee succeeded in passing important bipartisan legislation to improve the security of our nation’s nuclear facilities.


I look forward to working with the new subcommittee and full committee chairmen to move that legislation again quickly.


Today we are hearing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the NRC Inspector General about general oversight issues at the NRC.


Until the last Congress it was rare to see the NRC here.   Too often this agency has not had the careful watchful eye of the Congress.  That has led to some areas of real concern.


In the last few years, we have seen America’s aging fleet of nuclear reactors show their technological wrinkles.   These wrinkles are not just surface blemishes --- they are signs of real problems ahead, unless we take a new aggressive approach to regulating our nation’s nuclear power plants. 


To move in this direction, we need an agency that is committed to protecting the public health and safety -- not just preserving the profit margins of the nuclear power industry.


These concerns are not only shared by the public, but even by NRC staff.


A recent report by the Inspector General B and I hope he will elaborate on this in his own testimony -- paints a bleak picture of the NRC’s commitment to safety and security.


According to that report, a survey conducted by the Inspector General found that a third of the Agency’s employees question the agency's commitment to public safety and nearly half are not comfortable raising concerns about safety issues within the agency.


The survey also found that some NRC employees worry that safety-training requirements for nuclear facilities are outdated and “leave the security of the nuclear sites ... vulnerable to sabotage.”


This is extremely troubling to me and I hope the Commissioners will tell us what they are doing to reform this climate at the NRC. 


I am extremely concerned by this, because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now has the important responsibility of evaluating a license for the proposed nuclear waste repository outside Las Vegas, Nevada.


I expect the NRC to reverse its recent attachment to the proponents of repository and take a strong stand against the licensing of this facility.


So far the federal government has been more concerned with moving this process along than with making this process fair.   The NRC is an independent regulator and should live up to its responsibility by taking the following concrete steps prior to the onset of a licensing proceeding:


First, the NRC should revise its regulations to ensure that the NRC staff acts as a party to the licensing proceeding.  Although the NRC staff typically plays this role, there has never been a case in which the federal government has been the license applicant.


Second, the NRC should ensure that the members of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Boards used for the Yucca Mountain license review are selected from people outside the agency with strict conflict of interest protections.


Finally, the NRC should strongly reaffirm the importance of maintaining the formal ad judicatory hearing process for the Yucca Mountain license.  In particular, there should be full rights to cross examination and discovery.


Implementing these recommendations would go a long way to ensuring that the NRC holds a fair and balanced Yucca Mountain license review. 


In the next few years, the NRC will be faced with some of its greatest challenges since the Three Mile Island accident.


There is a continuing need to upgrade security at nuclear power plants.


There will potentially be a license review of the proposed nuclear waste repository outside Las Vegas, Nevada.


There will be a need to reexamine the safety of our nation’s aging fleet of nuclear reactors.


I hope the NRC officials here today will give us some understanding of how they plan to meet these challenges in a way that puts the health and safety of our citizens foremost.


I look forward to hearing from Chairman Meserve, the other Commissioners and the Inspector General.