I commend Sens. Carper and Voinovich for holding this hearing today, continuing the tradition of rigorous oversight that I started when I assumed the Chairmanship of this Subcommittee over 10 years ago. The safety and security of our nation’s nuclear plants is essential. Responsibility for maintaining security rests not only with the industry’s security forces, as they are vigilant and thorough in their protection of the facilities, but with the NRC as a regulator and with this Committee in its oversight role. It is our job today, as Members of this Committee, to ensure that the NRC remains a strong and independent regulator, true to its mission of protecting public health and safety, and promoting the common defense and security.
The NRC cannot condone, and this Committee cannot ignore, security guards sleeping on duty in violation of procedures. I appreciate that Mr. Crane shares my extreme disappointment to learn that a group of security officers did just that. I am eager to learn what conditions created this situation and what has been done to prevent it from happening again. Inappropriate behavior on the part of a few guards should be firmly addressed, but it should NOT be allowed to tarnish the reputation of the dedicated, vigilant professionals that comprise the vast majority of these security forces or to undermine public confidence in them.
In addition to security issues, I’m glad to have this opportunity to ask questions about the NRC’s budget proposal. The NRC has repeatedly acknowledged the challenges associated with the growing number of new reactor license applications that will likely be filed. Yet, the requested budget increase for new reactor licensing is only $3.1 million. There are reports that NRC staff recommended an additional $22 million for new reactor licensing that was NOT included in the final budget request and that the shortfall will lead to delays of 8 months or more in reviewing applications filed in FY’09. If this is true, then I am very concerned to hear that the NRC may already be jeopardizing its ability to conduct thorough reviews in a timely fashion by setting the stage for a funding shortfall.
In contrast, the requested budget increase for reactor oversight -- a process that even GAO has found to be logical and well-structured -- is $16.1 million, over 5 times the increase for new reactor licensing. Testimony from our October hearing certainly didn’t indicate program shortcomings requiring a strong funding increase as a remedy.
I’m concerned by this disparity and I’m eager to understand the basis for it.