U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   05/20/2004
Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Oversight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

First, I would like to thank Chairman Voinovich for holding today’s annual oversight hearing which continues the process I started in 1998 when I was the Chairman of this Subcommittee. Since 1998 the NRC has made tremendous progress.

The relicensing program, which no one thought would work in 1998, has become almost routine. Major reforms have taken place on the enforcement side, and we have seen real progress with the NRC moving towards risk-based approaches.

Recent events have tested the NRC - and thus far I am generally pleased with how the Commission has responded. We need to learn from these challenges, implement solutions and move forward. Backsliding into the inefficient and ineffective days of the past is not an option.

Acting Chairman Diaz, and Commissioner’s Merrifield and McGaffigan; the three of you and the staff at the NRC should be commended for the work you have done. Of course no job is ever finished and I believe you have as many challenges facing you today as we did in 1998, if not more. Unfortunately, unless the White House can find a replacement for Admiral Grossenbacher, whose nomination languished for over seven months before he withdrew to pursue other opportunities, I fear you will be a three person Commission for awhile.

During today’s hearing and over the coming months, I would like to hear your thoughts, and the views from the second panel, on several issues.

1) There have been a few safety issues in the last few years, such as some recent events at Vermont Yankee. How well is the risk-based approach working. As an Agency, are you able to identify the real risks and address them in a safe manner?

2) The NRC, and the nuclear industry, has a large number of employees close to the retirement age. Do you and will you have the staff in place to address the major upcoming issues such as:

- the continuing relicensing process,
- the permit application for Yucca Mountain, and
- the potential permits from the different consortiums, who are interested in building new nuclear facilities.

All three of these events will be occurring at roughly the same time, do you have the resources that you need?

3) In addition to the employees at the NRC headquarters and the resident inspectors, we also have four NRC Regions, which have been in place since the 70's. Would the NRC function more efficiently if we consolidated all of the staff to the headquarters, keeping the resident inspectors in place? This could eliminate some redundancy in overhead and help provide the Headquarters with the experienced staff they need.

4) How is the interaction between the EPA and the NRC on the setting of radiation standards? I have long thought that the EPA does not do an adequate job assessing the real risks involved in radiation. Now that the politics of the standards set by EPA for Yucca Mountain are over, perhaps it is time to address EPA’s performance.

With these issues in mind, I am interested in today’s testimony and the views of the witnesses from both panels. Thank you.