Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member:
Thank you, Chairman Boxer, for holding this hearing. All three nominees are of high caliber and will make outstanding contributions to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
I was glad to hear that President Obama has finally embraced nuclear energy as crucial to our energy security and economic prosperity. I couldn’t agree more. Nuclear energy is a safe, clean source of energy that should play a central role in strengthening America’s energy security.
We are all very aware that the national economy has changed drastically since the first application for a new reactor was filed in September of 2007. These changing economic circumstances force U.S. utilities to continually assess electricity demand and their options for meeting it. As with any other business, they must make these decisions in real time in response to changing market conditions.
The NRC is insulated from the challenges of responding to those dynamic conditions. Regulatory decision making should not be pressured by economic conditions. The NRC’s mission to ensure safety, however, does not absolve the agency of the responsibility to regulate in an efficient and predictable manner.
The NRC now has two years of experience with reviewing new plant applications, yet it still has not indicated dates when applicants can expect to receive their licenses. How can you budget and allocate resources if you don’t know how long application reviews will take? How can you evaluate performance without a schedule to measure against?
Granted, it’s been decades since the NRC has licensed new plants. There have been hiccups and will likely be more as everyone gains experience with the process. The agency, however, should not hide behind that excuse in order to avoid taking responsibility for establishing a transparent, predictable schedule and managing accordingly.
My question is simply this: If the agency doesn’t have confidence in its own process and ability to manage it, why would stakeholders? As commissioners, each of you will be responsible for the leadership of this agency. I hope you will all strive to make this process more predictable so that the agency is viewed as an effective regulator, not as an obstacle to building new nuclear plants.
I also hope each of you, should you be confirmed, will keep a safety-focused mindset in assessing the matters that come before you. The natural inclination of a regulator is to regulate more. That tendency requires increased resources from both the industry, to comply, and from the regulator to develop regulations and monitor compliance. Neither the industry nor the agency has unlimited resources. It is the Commission’s responsibility to ensure that the agency remains safety-focused and that resources are dedicated to issues of the highest impact to safety.
Congress intended that the Commission function as a collegial body in its mission to protect public health, safety, and the environment. It certainly functions best with the full complement of five commissioners. It is my hope that the Committee, and then the full Senate, will soon complete its consideration of these nominees and fill the Commission, because the Commission has plenty of work to do, and we need to ensure the agency has its full measure of leadership.