The hearing will come to order. Good morning and thank you for coming.
Today’s hearing continues this Committee’s strong oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is the second NRC oversight hearing this year, the sixth that I have chaired, and the ninth in a series that began in 1998 when Senator Inhofe was chairman of this Subcommittee.
These hearings have had a dual effect of improved performance by the Commission and allowing all of us to get to know the esteemed Chairman – Nils Diaz. Chairman Diaz, we have met and spoken frequently over the past few years, and it has been a great pleasure to work with you.
This is the last time that you will be before us after serving on the Commission selflessly since 1996, including the last three years as Chairman. I sincerely appreciate your years of dedication and hard work and wish you well in your retirement. Your vision and leadership have had a profound impact, and as a result, I believe the NRC is better prepared to face the many challenges that lie ahead.
While a change in leadership at this time could be problematic, we have taken steps in this Committee and the Senate to ensure a smooth transition. Too often, we leave positions vacant for awhile – but in this case, the importance of this matter led us to confirm Dr. Dale Klein to be the next NRC Chairman more than a month early. Chairman Diaz, you are leaving the NRC in good hands as I believe he has the right mix of technical, policy, and management experience.
We also acted to confirm Commissioners Jaczko and Lyons who had been recess appointed. I am very pleased that each of you could be here today and that we have a fully confirmed Commission at this critical time. On the second panel, we have Mr. Barnie Beasley of Southern Nuclear Company, Mr. David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Mr. Kevin Book, an energy analyst at the investment banking firm of Friedman Billings Ramsey. Welcome and I appreciate you all being here today.
I am a strong proponent of nuclear power. It provides about six percent of the electricity consumed in my state and about 20 percent nationally. It is emission free power, and by increasing its use, we can help meet our energy needs, be less reliant on natural gas, and improve the quality of our air.
Last year in this Committee, we spent a considerable amount of time on legislation to provide for the safe and secure growth of nuclear power. Our provisions and several other key initiatives were included in the energy bill, leading the NRC to project that they will receive applications for 17 or more new plants in the next 2 to 3 years. This is a huge challenge for an agency that has not seen this type of major licensing actions in the last 25 years or so.
More than ever, NRC must provide regulatory stability in both its reactor oversight and new reactor licensing processes. Ensuring the safety and security of our existing nuclear power plants is absolutely essential if we are to continue and hopefully increase our nation’s use of nuclear energy. At the same time, NRC must move forward in a timely fashion with updating its regulatory and organizational infrastructures to make the licensing process for new reactors more efficient.
That is why we are specifically focusing this morning on the regulatory processes for new and existing nuclear plants. The Commission must take a balanced approach as a regulator that ensures the safe operation of the existing fleet of nuclear plants without stifling the growth of nuclear power.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses their thoughts on the NRC’s oversight of the existing fleet of plants and the infrastructure that is being established to accommodate the expected applications for new ones.