I first want to thank Chairman Voinovich for holding this oversight hearing and for his continued commitment to strong oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
We have made a lot of progress since our first oversight hearing in 1998, when I was the Subcommittee Chairman. The NRC’s relicensing reviews are being completed within 2 years, the NRC has moved to a risk-informed reactor oversight process, and we have safely added additional electric generating capacity through power uprates. The total energy added through these uprates are equivalent to four nuclear plants. The NRC has also done a tremendous job in responding to security issues following the attacks of September 11. We all worked hard to craft a good nuclear security law and I want to ensure that law is implemented in the spirit in which it was crafted. These changes were necessary, yet reasonable – so I expect the NRC to implement security requirements in a manner that takes into account that “necessary and reasonable” standard.
I want to thank the Commission, and the Commission staff, for the work they have done, and equally important, the work you are about to do.
I commend the efforts of this Committee for passing three pieces of legislation that I authored with Chairman Voinovich in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to provide for the safe and secure growth of nuclear power. These provisions – NRC reforms, security, liability insurance, and human capital – combined with the energy bill’s sections on risk insurance, production tax credits, and loan guarantees provide the foundation for the construction of new nuclear plants.
You are faced with the continuing relicensing of the existing reactors, you are still implementing new security requirements, you have a new reactor license process to deal with, and of course there is still Yucca Mountain which we have to get up and running as soon as possible. In addition, we can not lose sight of the accomplishments that have been made over the last few years, and we can’t afford to move backwards on the progress made.
Make no mistake, I am very pleased with the progress that we have made under the leadership of this commission - you are to be congratulated. But part of that success is due to us identifying issues of concern as they come up, and to that end I do have a few issues that I would like discuss.
While I appreciate the efforts the NRC has made on moving to a risk-informed oversight process, particularly in regards to inspections, I am troubled by the length of time it is taking to get new regulations through the process, and I am concerned about how those regulations are not incorporating risk.
I understand that only one major regulatory change incorporating risk has been completed, which was the Part 50.69 Special Treatment rule which the NRC began in 1999 and didn’t complete until 2004. Other risk related rule making efforts begun in 1999 such as Part 52 for design certifications and Part 50.46a have yet to be completed. In addition, we have heard concerns that some of these proposals have moved further away from risk-based concerns than where they started.
Another area of concern is the recent attention to the concept of potentially regulating “safety culture.” While I agree on the prominence of safety, and that the end result must be safer facilities, I am greatly concerned that the methods to achieve this buzzword might distract the NRC from implementing risk-informed decisions.
A simple dictionary definition of the word culture means “a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a company or corporation.” My concern is that you can not regulate “attitudes and values,” and if the NRC attempts this you will end up ignoring real risk and safety issues. I understand that the definition the NRC is using includes the word attitude in determining whether a facility has a safety culture. I am very wary of this effort.
In the 80's and 90's we saw the NRC inspectors regulating in a bean-counting mentality where the violations centered more on measurable items such as having the operating manuals in certain colored binders instead of focusing on real risk issues. I am concerned that if the NRC charges its employees with examining attitudes and values, we may actually move backwards on the progress made.