U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/14/2006
Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Oversight Hearing on NRC’s Regulatory Responsibilities and Capabilities for Long- and Short- term Spent Fuel Storage Programs

Today’s hearing on the disposal options for commercial nuclear waste is a continuation of an earlier hearing that the full Committee had on March 1, 2006. I thank the Chairman for having this hearing as it further reinforces both the Committee as well as the Subcommittee’s resolve in wanting to find a national disposal solution for one of our country’s most significant and reliable sources of energy.

Over the past year, Congress has accomplished a lot in promoting the nuclear renaissance. Mr. Chairman, it was only seven months ago that the then Chairman of the NRC, Mr. Diaz, had informed us that he was expecting 11 combined construction and operation license (COLs) applications by 2009 for new nuclear plants. However, today I am happy to hear that the NRC now anticipates 19 COLs within the next three years.

Mr. Chairman, I specifically credit this renewed nuclear renaissance to key critical nuclear provisions that we in this Committee crafted such as NRC reforms, security, liability insurance, and human capital provisions combined with other nuclear key provisions such as risk insurance, production tax credits, and loan guarantees.

Though I am pleased with the ongoing efforts by both the NRC and DOE in implementing these critical nuclear provisions, I remain extremely concerned about the NRC’s ability to address the increase amount of workload required to review the increasing number of COLs while simultaneously preparing for the Yucca Mountain license application due from the DOE in 2008. Mr. Chairman, I know that you have been instrumental in assisting the NRC to address increased staffing and space needs and I thank you for all of your efforts.

Given NRC’s increased workload over the next three years in reactor licensing, I am skeptical about new legislation that will require the construction of about 37 interim sites to be built around the country to store nuclear waste. First, I question whether the DOE can select and submit over 30 license applications to the NRC within 300 days of enactment of the legislation. Second, the NRC simply cannot review these applications in 32 months. In addition to interim storage, the committee is also concerned about the timeline associated with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). For instance, it is my understanding that funding for nuclear programs at universities were eliminated to support GNEP. In addition, some of DOE’s funding for the Nuclear Power 2010 Program which is critical for the Combined Construction and Operation License (COL) application process for new nuclear power plants was reduced to further support GNEP. Also, for the successful implementation of GNEP, the NRC will be required to license fuel reprocessing plants as well as fast reactors. This will further strain NRC’s limited resources and capabilities.

As you know from our Committee’s earlier hearing on Yucca Mountain, I strongly support the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. How many more thousands of rock samples do we need to further re-confirm what is already known about this site’s engineered and natural barriers ability to contain radioactive materials for thousands of years? We need to open Yucca Mountain as quickly as possible. Though I find the interim storage option intriguing, I am concerned about the impact on our resources in shifting the debate from long term storage to interim storage. I believe that this must be fully debated on the Senate floor and not attached to an omnibus appropriations bill. Furthermore, I do support in principle the future need for GNEP as our country will need a closed nuclear fuel cycle. However, I question the timing of this elaborate program at the DOE and fear that this program can be a major distraction from other programs at the DOE that focuses on the immediate construction and operation of commercial nuclear plants. In a time of shrinking budgets, I would recommend that the Department prioritize its budget to be more in line with the immediate energy needs of our country.

I am not aware of any scientific changes that would deter me from still supporting the Yucca Mountain site since our last hearing. It is for this reason that I have introduced S.2610 to help expedite the licensing, construction, and operation of Yucca Mountain. I hope that my fellow colleagues in this Committee as well as in the US Senate will support this critical piece of legislation in helping to send the clear signal to investors that our country like so many of our competitors is serious in resolving our national and global energy needs.

I would like to thank the Chairman again for having this hearing and look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses.