Good morning and welcome to our witnesses today. I first want to thank Chairman Voinovich for holding this oversight hearing and for his continued commitment to oversight of the NRC. I believe we are at a cross roads for nuclear energy, but before I discuss where we are today, I just want to review briefly where we were in 1997 when I became Chairman of this Subcommittee.
• We hadn’t had an NRC oversight hearing in over a decade,
• The relicensing process was estimated to take over 5 years per unit, if it could be completed at all,
• The NRC was more concerned about paperwork violations than real risk issues, and
• No one was even considering building new nuclear units.
Today, we have regular NRC oversight, the relicensing process is being completed on time, the NRC has moved to a risk-based climate, and people are actually talking about new nuclear generation.
In addition, the industry has responded well to the security climate since 9/11. The nuclear industry operates some of the most secure, if not the most secure, sites anywhere in the country. In fact, most other industries could learn something from the nuclear facilities.
I want thank the Commission, and the Commission staff, for the work they have done. They have turned the NRC into both an effective and efficient agency. I do appreciate their efforts and will continue to work with them to ensure that these efforts and positive results continue.
But today we face a cross roads. The next few months and years will determine whether or not nuclear energy will thrive in the 21st century. Nuclear power has a good story to tell. It is safe, low-cost, environmentally friendly, and at 20%, an important part of our fuel mix. In fact, there is no reason why in the long term, nuclear power can’t or shouldn’t increase its percent usage.
But there is work to do to ensure that there is the regulatory climate for new generation, enhanced security, and the long-term resources in order for the NRC to carry out its mission of ensuring the safety and security of our commercial nuclear fleet. We on this committee have an obligation to continue our oversight in order to help keep NRC on track and to understand what they need in order to carry out their mission.
This Congress, Senator Voinovich and I have introduced 3 bills to address many of the needs of the NRC: an NRC Fees bill; a nuclear security bill; and a bill to reathorized Price-Anderson. It is my hope that we can move all three of these bill shortly after Memorial Day recess.
This year marks the expiration of the NRC Fees law. In 2000, I authored that bill that brought fairness to the fees that NRC collects from its licensees, while providing that 90% of the NRC budget is paid for by those fees. That bill also ensured that NRC could not seek reimbursement for those items, such as their international programs, which don’t provide direct benefit to those who pay the fees. Absent Congressional action reauthorizing the fees law, the NRC fee base would drop to almost 30% of its budgets leaving it in a terrible financial position.
This time Senator Voinovich and I are including in the Fees bill additional language to help with the human capital crisis at the NRC and a number of regulatory reforms such as eliminating the NRC antitrust reviews and streamlining the hearing process. Senator Voinovich has been a leader in addressing the human capital needs of the Federal government, and NRC is an agency that headed toward crisis if we do not act. Much of the reforms in this bill were included in our 2000 legislation that passed both the Committee and full Senate by Unanimous Consent, but unfortunately were not included in what was signed into law.
We have also introduced a nuclear security bill. I want to thank Senator Voinovich for holding a classified hearing last week on this topic. This committee has twice reported out security bills, but they have unfortunately fallen victim to the fate of the Energy bills that they were attached to. It is my hope that we can once again pass a security bill and keep it separate from the energy bill and get it signed into law in the near future. Much of what we have included in past security bills has been implemented administratively by the NRC - and I applaud them for those actions. But it is well past time that we provide them the additional authorities that can only be realized through legislation. The bill that I have introduced reflects those additional needs and I hope that we can get strong bipartisan agreement on moving those provisions very soon. NRC has done a tremendous job since the attacks of 9/11 and there is very little doubt that, because of the deterrent that these robust security measures provides, these facilities are not attractive targets for any terrorist who hopes to carry out a successful attack.
And finally, Senator Voinovich and I have introduced legislation to reauthorize Price-Anderson. Without this bill, and the certainty that it provides, the long-term future of nuclear power would be in jeopardy.
Because of oversight hearings like this one, we can talk about successes. Thank you for making sure that NRC is a priority to the Congress and I look forward from hearing from our witnesses today.