Hearings - Statement
 
Statement of Thomas R. Carper
Hearing: Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety hearing entitled, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Reactor Oversight Process.”
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The hearing will come to order.

Welcome, I appreciate the effort of all our witnesses to be with us today.
Before we begin, I would like to take the first few minutes of this hearing to acknowledge the passing of Commissioner Ed McGaffigan and commemorate his service to our country.

I remember many months ago, Commissioner McGaffigan came to my office to meet with me. He came to tell me his cancer was progressing and that his time with us was growing short.

He then proceeded to spend the rest of the meeting discussing the issues facing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and offering his heartfelt advice on what this subcommittee that Sen. Voinovich and I are privileged to lead should focus on as this year unfolded.

That meeting was indicative of the kind of public servant Ed McGaffigan was. When he was faced with the most sobering personal issue any of us will ever have to face – his own mortality -- Ed was concerned with making sure the Commission carried on its mission. Ed’s motivation was not to secure his legacy. His desire was simply to see that we did what was best for our nation. Ed literally dedicated his life to serving this country, and he did it with humility, selflessness, and principle.

To his mother, Margaret, and to his children, Edward Francis and Margaret Ruth, I offer the deepest condolences of my colleagues, myself and the members of our staffs who knew Ed and admired him deeply.

Ed’s memory and his legacy of devotion and hard work, along with his refusal to give up, will inspire us for years to come. To Ed’s family, on behalf of all of us, let me simply say thank you for sharing with us a very good and decent man for the past 30 years. We are in your debt.

Now would you all join me in a moment of silence as we remember Ed and his remarkable service?

Thank you everyone.

Today’s hearing is on the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process and whether it adequately ensures the public’s health and safety.

Senators will have five minutes for their opening statements.

I will then recognize the Chairman and Commissioners to offer their statements to the committee. Chairman Klein will give a five minute statement, and Commissioners Jaczko and Lyons will each have two minutes to offer any additional thoughts.

Following the Commissioner’s statements we will have two rounds of questions.

I will then ask our second panel of witnesses to come forward.

Last week, I and several of my colleagues celebrated the submittal of the first license application in over 30 years to build and operate a new nuclear reactor in the United States.

That is definitely a big deal. What is even more exciting is that application is the first of several expected to be submitted by the end of this year, and possibly dozens more are expected over the next 18 months.

Senator Voinovich and I have been working over the past years to make sure the NRC is ready for this nuclear renaissance, and we will be watching very closely as these applications begin to wind their way through the review process at the Agency.

If all goes well, we will have the first of possibly 30 new reactors built within the next 7 or 8 years.

While that one reactor 7 years down the road is important, the 104 reactors currently operating in the United States must remain the Agency’s top priority. If any one of our current reactors fails to continue to operate safely, it will undermine the nuclear resurgence we are currently seeing.

The Reactor Oversight Process is the cornerstone of the NRC’s reactor safety program, and today we are going to discuss its effectiveness.

The Reactor Oversight Process was developed to provide a more predictable and consistent regulatory framework for the nuclear industry. At the same time it is intended to give the public a more understandable and accessible assessment of plant performance.

I believe the Reactor Oversight Process has fulfilled these two objectives. Having said that, I want to discuss a third aspect of NRC’s mission - prevention and correction of problems.

NRC’s “Action Matrix” categorizes individual reactors according to their performance. If a plant’s performance degrades the NRC increases its inspections.

The NRC has identified seven key processes – or “cornerstones” – that are necessary for safe operation of a plant. There are currently ten reactors in NRC’s column 3 – the “Degraded Cornerstone Column.” There is also currently one reactor in column 4 the “Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone Column.”

This means eleven reactors are having significant problems in areas of their plant that are deemed to be necessary for safe operation.

In my questions today, I would like to discuss what the NRC is doing to address these issues at these eleven plants, and more importantly find out if the Reactor Oversight Process provides the proper tools to ensure that the plants in column 3 improve in a timely fashion, instead of continuing to degrade.

There are also plants that continue to have relatively minor problems, which do not seem to go away.

I remember in 2004 and 2005 when the nuclear reactors nearest to my state, Salem and Hope Creek, had an outage or some sort of leak or other problem on what seemed to be a daily basis.

Those plants have greatly improved over the last year, but now the same sort of situation is occurring in New York’s Indian Point.

It is important that the NRC continue to monitor and work to quickly resolve these problems to ensure all plants are functioning reliably.

Thank you all for your testimony. Senators may be submitting questions for you to answer in writing. I ask you to complete the answers to those questions for the record promptly, so we can publish our hearings in a timely fashion.

I now call upon our second panel, and would like to ask them to take their seats at the witness table.

On this panel we have:

Mark Gaffigan, Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment for the Government Accounting Office

David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists

Marvin Fertel, Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer, Nuclear Energy Institute

Thank you all for coming today.

Please limit your statements to 5 minutes each. The full content of your written statements will be included in the record.

Mr. Gaffigan, you are recognized.

Again, I want to thank all the witnesses for their statements. We will leave the hearing record open for one week to allow for the submission of additional materials for the record.

Senators may be submitting questions for you to answer in writing that will become part of the hearing record as well. Please respond to as promptly as possible.

Again, I appreciate the witnesses’ time and attendance, and with that the hearing is adjourned.

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