I am very disappointed that Commissioner McGaffigan is not here with us today. For more than 10 years, I have appreciated his frank and insightful testimony before this Committee. Ed and I shared a common goal to transform the Commission into a more effective and disciplined agency and I have had the greatest respect for his tenacious efforts. The results are a remarkable and an admirable legacy. The sad thing about this legacy is that Ed is not here to see new reactor licenses get filed and observe the impact of his efforts as the NRC meets this new challenge. He will be sorely missed.
Thank you, Senator Carper and Senator Voinovich, for holding this hearing today. I am a firm believer that constant oversight is critical to ensuring that federal agencies are productive and efficient. The NRC is a solid example of how oversight by this Committee over the last 10 years transformed the agency from a subjective and unpredictable regulator to a more safety-focused, efficient one.
One key element in that transformation was the reform of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process. The old process was subjective, inconsistent and bureaucratic. The reforms put in place in 2000 have established a more safety-focused process that is measurable. Even the GAO found the process to be logical and well-structured, and that the process causes the industry to constantly improve. The GAO also found it to be a very open process which provided the public and other stakeholders considerable information on its activities.
The very nature of requests for the so-called “Independent Safety Assessments” implies that the NRC’s oversight is inadequate to ensure safety and is somehow biased. The NRC was established, by law, as an independent agency. If the integrity of the agency is in question, then I’m eager to hear the evidence. If the Reactor Oversight Process is deficient in some way, then I’d also like to know that so it can be remedied. As I understand it, the NRC is moving to address the few weaknesses highlighted by the GAO. I look forward to the testimony today on these issues.
I’m also interested in the GAO’s conclusions about the NRC’s readiness to review new plant applications. Last week, NRG filed a license application for 2 new plants in Texas . I hope this is the first of many to come. However, this surge of applications presents a significant challenge to the NRC’s ability to manage its workload. In the effort to balance existing responsibilities with new plant licensing reviews, I am concerned that the NRC may not have all the tools in place that it will need.
During its review of Early Site Permits, the NRC was caught flat-footed because it underestimated the number of public comments and was unprepared to manage volume of work. Similarly, as the agency begins to review license applications, I’m concerned that some important management processes are not in place. Without clear processes for prioritizing resources and tracking Requests for Additional Information (RAI’s), I am concerned that the agency will soon find itself fully engaged in reviewing multiple applications without having all the necessary tools in place. I look forward to hearing Chairman Klein’s testimony on how the NRC is addressing these and other issues reported by the GAO.