STATEMENT OF PETER B. LYONS
COMMISSIONER, U. S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON CLEAN AIR AND NUCLEAR SAFETY
UNITED STATES SENATE
April 25, 2007
Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Voinovich, and members of the subcommittee, I thank you for the opportunity to provide this statement before your subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. I truly regret that my duties prevent me from speaking to you personally today.
In the two years of my tenure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the challenges confronted by the Commission have demanded great devotion to the standards of independence, public openness, and sound technical bases, standards I am proud to say have been met. During my tenure I have gained immense respect for my fellow Commissioners and for the agency=s highly competent and professional staff. As a Nation and as an agency, we face even greater future challenges and the need for continuing commitment and dedication. Therefore, I once again reaffirm my personal commitment to public service in a manner that continues to meet these high standards.
I gratefully acknowledge the support of this subcommittee and of Congress in providing the resources necessary for the NRC to carry forward its mission and meet the challenges of the future. As the NRC purposefully and thoughtfully prepares for what is likely to be an unprecedented wave of new power reactor applications, we are also very mindful of our mission to ensure the safety of today’s operating reactors. If we hope to contribute to a new generation of power reactors that safely and securely help meet our Nation=s future energy needs and increase our energy independence, we recognize that this opportunity rests on the continued safe operation of today=s reactors. Our reactor inspection and oversight program serves as a model of continuous improvement. In the hands of our resident inspectors at each site and teams of specialist inspectors in our regional offices, it remains our strongest oversight tool.
Reactor-site security has been enhanced through NRC orders and regulations since September 2001 and by the NRC-graded testing of security forces. Our nuclear power critical infrastructure is among the best protected of all critical infrastructures in our country and provides a benchmark to which other industries can strive. The Commission has given and continues to give thoughtful and careful consideration to the security-related requirements that are necessary to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety. This consideration entails close and constant collaboration with our Federal, State, and local partners in assessing the threat environment and maintaining an effective response capability. I have been pleased with our progress but continue to monitor it closely. Plant designs that could be built in the future already have improved safety features that will also make them more resistant to threats such as aircraft crashes. These designs will, in addition, meet the requirements for all power reactors to have mitigation capabilities to cope with such events.
The NRC’s ability to meet its future human capital needs will continue to be a priority because we are in competition with the utilities, designers and vendors, manufacturers, other agencies, national laboratories and universities, and even with other countries that are outdistancing us in their advancement of nuclear technologies. The Nation must continue to focus on its academic infrastructure to attract the bright and motivated young people we will need in the future. The U.S. was the originator of nuclear technology, but we have lost the lead. The research and test reactors and associated instrumentation and controls that are used to train new generations of engineers have not appreciably changed since they were first designed in the 1950s and 1960s. Ensuring continued federal funding through the Department of Energy is necessary to enable the U.S. to catch up and once again become a leader in this arena. Our future health as a Nation depends on it. In a similar vein, the Commission is evaluating the use of digital instrumentation, controls, and safety systems into nuclear power plants. Along with essential safety benefits, this technology brings regulatory, experience, and expertise challenges. To help address this issue, the Commission has directed the staff to conduct a public workshop to explore approaches for establishing an integrated digital instrumentation and control and human-machine interface test facility in the U.S.
We are fortunate to have had a long history of NRC managers and executives who have fostered a working environment that has garnered award-winning recognition as one of the best Federal employers. Our rapid expansion has stressed our ability to find adequate work spaces for our new employees, and I respectfully ask this Subcommittee for its continued support as we seek the best ways to accomplish our expansion while maintaining our reputation as a Federal employer of choice.
In closing, I thank the Subcommittee for this opportunity to address these important topics, and I look forward to a continuing dialog with you.