The hearing will come to order. Good morning and thank you all for coming.
I am pleased to have such a diverse group of witnesses here today to share with us their perspective on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) regulatory responsibilities and capabilities for complying with long- and short-term spent fuel storage programs as well as to get their opinions about our country’s nuclear waste options.
Today’s hearing continues this Committee’s strong oversight of the NRC, as I believe that strong oversight of the NRC is critical to the welfare of the American public. It is the third NRC oversight hearing this year, the seventh that I have chaired, and the tenth in a series that began in 1998 when Senator Inhofe was chairman of this Subcommittee.
The previous oversight hearing held in June focused specifically on the NRC’s new reactor licensing process to steer the agency towards making its process more efficient and timely. NRC is faced with a huge challenge of having to process a tidal wave of new reactor license applications that are expected within the next 2 to 3 years, in the magnitude that it has not seen in the last 25 years or so. For this reason, I have made strong oversight of the NRC a top priority for this Subcommittee. We need to make sure that the Commission is taking 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.
A long-term commitment to nuclear energy will make the United States more energy independent and energy efficient. This Congress and the President demonstrated strong leadership by enacting the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which encourages diversity of energy sources, including emission-free sources of electricity, such as nuclear energy. In order to fully realize the benefits that nuclear power offers, however, a solution for the problem of disposal of spent nuclear fuel must be found. Since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which requires that a final disposal facility be operational by 1998, rate payers across America have paid over $27 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, and continue to pay an additional $750 million each year.
Yet, here we are in Year 2006, the Energy Department has yet to submit a license application to the NRC. While I am encouraged by the Administration’s bill introduced by request by Senators Inhofe and Domenici to provided needed Yucca Mountain reforms, I believe it is even more critical that the federal government commit itself to the implementation of existing law.
In the meanwhile, the Administration, earlier this year, rolled out the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) for the long-term reduction of waste through reprocessing. And at the same time, the FY 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations bill includes a provision requiring establishment of interim waste storage sites across the country.
These provisions require a lot from NRC in a short period of time. This Committee has worked very hard to give NRC the resources and reforms needed so that it can efficiently review new reactor applications. But now, I am afraid that these waste proposals have the potential to move us backwards and could end the nuclear renaissance before it begins. Also, I believe that pursuing GNEP and interim storage could take the focus away from Yucca Mountain, delaying or ending that important project. I question whether DOE can select and submit license applications for 30 or so interim storage facilities within 300 days of enactment of the legislation as proposed. Also, I question NRC’s capability to review these applications in 32 months.
Therefore, I would like to focus this Subcommittee’s attention today on evaluating how these different nuclear waste provisions will impact the NRC in terms of its resources, and its capability to carry out other vital programs, such as the new reactor licensing program and the operating reactor inspection and oversight program.
Finally, I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses on this critical policy issue.