Thank you, Chairman Boxer, for holding this hearing and focusing on implementing the lessons learned from Fukushima. The efforts will ensure that the safety of nuclear plants in the U.S., and around the world, will be enhanced and the use of nuclear energy will be sustained over the long term.
First, I would like to welcome Chairwoman Macfarlane to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and welcome her to the EPW hearing room in her new, official capacity. You have big challenges ahead and everyone here on this Committee has high hopes that you will be able to restore the collegial working environment at the Commission.
The NRC has been busy over the past year. For the first time in over 30 years, new licenses to build two reactors were issued by the Commission. In March, the Commission issued orders to implement the most significant post-Fukushima improvements. I am pleased that under Chairwoman Macfarlane, the Commission is focusing on its mission of nuclear safety without unnecessary distractions.
Our country needs affordable energy for any sustained economic growth. As a nation, we have the ability to produce this energy domestically, but nuclear must have a seat at the table for an all of the above energy policy that includes oil, gas, coal, hydropower, and renewable energy.
Ensuring the safe use of nuclear energy is a very serious job. That is why, unlike many other countries, Congress established the NRC, an independent commission, and charged five commissioners with the responsibility to protect public health and safety. We saw what happened at Fukushima and we are all committed to ensuring that a United States nuclear power plant will not experience a similar accident. That is why we have safeguards in place that would have prevented such a disaster here in the United States. For instance, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (formed by the Japanese government) reported that the Japanese plants are not required to consider a possible station blackout scenario - something the NRC instituted in the 1980's. This report concluded that "the accident may have been preventable" if an order already required by the NRC following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. was instituted by the Japanese.
No one, on either side of the aisle, in Congress is willing to accept anything other than the safe operation and regulatory compliance of the country's commercial nuclear power plants. Throughout the NRC's history, we have applied lessons learned from nuclear and non-nuclear events. At the same time, the NRC has the vital responsibility to determine the cumulative effects that its regulations actually have on safety. It is important that regulations provide significant, tangible, and necessary safety benefits that warrant the costs - costs that are ultimately born by consumers.
To all of the Commissioners, and the new Chairman, I am pleased to see that debates and the free flow of information seem healthy and respectful again. Combined, your actions are critical to ensure the safe operation of the nuclear power plants across this country. The nation is also counting on you to prevent the imposition of an unpredictable or unnecessary regulatory burden that undermines nuclear energy economically, and avoid the way EPA regulations are driving the premature shutdown of coal-fired power plants.