Statement of Senator George V. Voinovich
Oversight Hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
April 25, 2007
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to welcome Chairman Klein, Commissioners McGaffigan, Merrifield, Jaczko (pronounced Yatz-ko), and Lyons to our first Subcommittee hearing of this Congress – welcome.
Commissioner Merrifield, this probably is the last time that you will be before us after serving on the Commission honorably since 1998. I sincerely appreciate your years of dedication and hard work and wish you well in your new career.
I would also like to acknowledge Commissioner McGaffigan whose selfless devotion to duty and dedication as a public servant should be a model for everyone in government service. Mr. Chairman, with this group of highly talented and dedicated individuals on the Commission, it is no accident that NRC has been ranked the best place to work in the federal government.
Mr. Chairman, I do believe that our persistent and demanding oversight of the NRC is bearing fruit in the form of steady improvements at the NRC. Of the 19 Subcommittee hearings you and I have held in the past 2 Congresses, six were dedicated to NRC oversight. We have also engaged the Government Accountability Office to conduct independent reviews of the NRC on a number of critical areas.
Perhaps one of the most significant improvements at the NRC involves overhauling its Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) for nuclear plants, applying the lessons learned from the Davis-Besse incident in 2002. The ROP, which now includes an assessment of safety culture at nuclear power plants, is viewed by all stakeholders, including the GAO which issued a report last fall, as a major success story. NRC has also made significant strides in enhancing nuclear plant security and improving its efficiency in license renewal and power uprate review processes.
During the last Congress, this Committee spent a considerable amount of time on legislation to provide for the safe and secure growth of nuclear power. Our legislation and several other key initiatives were included in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, leading the NRC to project that they will receive 18 applications for 27 reactors within the next two to three 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. That is why we also held three NRC oversight hearings last year to ensure that NRC is aggressively gearing up to meet this daunting challenge.
In addition to new reactors, the Commission must continue to deal with license renewals and increased generation capacity for existing plants, security assessments and regulations, licensing Yucca Mountain , and the day-to-day regulatory activities for the nation’s 103 operating plants. We were also able to secure additional funds for the NRC through FY2006 and FY2007 appropriations for nuclear plant security, new reactor licensing, and human capital management.
The bottom line is that we have provided every legislative and funding provision that NRC requested and more. Dr. Klein, I am anxious to hear your testimony to get an update on the agency’s progress in meeting these challenges.
I know many of you heard me say this more than once, but I think it is worth repeating. The Commission must take a balanced approach as a regulator that ensures the safe and secure operation of the existing fleet of nuclear plants without stifling the growth of nuclear power. I expect the Commission to apply the same set of performance standards for the agency as they do with their licensees to guard against complacency while focusing its resources on those issues that are truly safety significant.
Mr. Chairman, while the focus of this hearing is on the NRC oversight, I must bring to the Committee’s attention broader challenges that this nation is facing if we are to continue and hopefully increase our nation’s use of nuclear energy, which I believe is essential to meeting our environmental, energy, and economic needs.
Although one of the objectives of the 2005 Energy Policy Act is to do exactly that, I am afraid that the Administration’s implementation of the energy bill has been slow at best and much to be desired. I recently met with Secretary Bodman and OMB Director Portman to discuss the importance of the 2005 energy bill provisions, especially the loan guarantee provision, in jump-starting new nuclear plant construction.
I am also concerned about the lack of a domestic industry base for nuclear plant components and lack of human capital. Currently, there is only one facility worldwide (Japanese) that is capable of producing heavy forging for commercial nuclear reactor vessels. Consequently, there is a four year lead time for procuring such critical components.
Whatever this country does, it is clear that nuclear power is growing elsewhere in the world. The nation would be well served if our own energy needs serve as a springboard to rebuild U.S. technology and manufacturing capabilities so that we can once again provide the leadership worldwide, contributing to foreign markets as well as supporting our own.
Mr. Chairman, thank you once again for holding this hearing.