This past Sunday marked the one year anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan and triggered the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility.
The citizens of Japan -- especially the friends and families of the thousands of disaster victims -- still are struggling to put their lives back together. My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all of them.
We cannot predict when or where the next major disaster will occur. We do know, however, that robust preparation and response planning are vital to minimize injury and death when it does happen.
That is why over the past year, this Committee has exercised its oversight authority repeatedly to ensure that our nation’s nuclear power plants are prepared for the worst.
We want to make sure that our nuclear power plants have the right tools to respond effectively in any crisis to protect the American public.
Even though the NRC concluded that an accident like Fukushima is unlikely to happen in the United States and that we have some of the safest nuclear power plants in the world, I’m still convinced that we can learn from the Fukushima accident.
As President Harry Truman once said, “It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Fortunately, we have seen that the NRC and, quite frankly, the nuclear industry and other stakeholders agree with Truman’s statement.
We all know we can do better, and the NRC is moving forward to ensure that the U.S. nuclear industry continues to improve its safety and preparedness efforts as life begins to return to normal in many parts of Japan.
Today, I look forward to hearing an update from the NRC Commissioners on their actions to enhance safety at our nation's nuclear power fleet in light of the lessons we have learned from Fukushima.
Since our last hearing in December, the NRC has made several major decisions on how to move forward with these efforts. I am especially interested in hearing today about the seven actions recently issued by the Commission.
Before I conclude my brief remarks this morning, though, I’d like to repeat something that my colleagues have heard me say a number of times before. I doubt that there have ever been five better qualified people to serve as commissioners than those who serve the American people today. I still believe that.
Since we last heard from the Commissioners in December, I have been encouraged to see that they are still able to get things done despite the differences that were clearly in evidence in this room three months ago.
For example, since December, the NRC has approved the AP1000 design for new nuclear plants, which uses some of the newest and safest nuclear technology available.
The NRC also reached a true milestone in its history recently by approving Southern Company’s licenses to build and operate two new reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia.
They will be the first new nuclear reactors to be built in this country in more than three decades.
In addition, the NRC has moved forward on several actions relating to Fukushima in an effort to make sure that our current nuclear power fleet is safe.
Both of those developments suggest – at least to me – that while interpersonal relationships among Commissioners frayed badly last year, the Commission still remains a functioning body.
Moving forward, I want to encourage the Chairman and each of the other four Commissioners to continue to work every day to further improve cooperation and collegiality among the commission members, while we attempt to do the same thing here in the Senate.
Most importantly, though, I want us to do everything in our power to ensure that safety is never compromised and that Congress provides the tools and resources the NRC needs to carry out its mission of protecting public safety through responsible, effective nuclear regulation.