Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Jeffords, Members of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, it is a great honor to appear before you as President Bush’s nominee for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
As you know, this will be my third term on the Commission, if the Senate approves my nomination. I have appeared before this Committee and its Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety on many occasions since Chairman Inhofe reinstituted regular NRC oversight hearings in July 1998. I believe that NRC has benefited greatly from that oversight, and I look forward to continued vigorous oversight, should I be confirmed.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the Committee for the NRC-related legislation that was included in the Energy Bill enacted last month. This was the most far-reaching package of NRC provisions in more than two decades. They provide the Commission with tools to improve the safety and security of civilian nuclear facilities and more importantly, the personnel tools to manage what I see as the most significant management challenge facing the Commission in the years ahead: managing generational change.
NRC recently announced that it plans to hire 350 new employees in fiscal year 2006. This will be a combination of experienced and entry level hires and will constitute more than ten percent of NRC’s total workforce in September 2006. This trend will continue for several years further as NRC faces twin bow waves, a bow wave of retirements estimated at about seven percent of our workforce per year (about 220 people/year), and a bow wave of new work primarily related to applications for the design certification of advanced reactors and for combined operating licenses for new reactors (about 100-150 people/year).
I can show you the first bow wave visually. The chart attached to my statement shows the age distribution of NRC’s permanent employees on April 30, 2005 compared to September 30, 2000. Note that the peak population between the ages of 50 and 55 in 2000 has essentially moved five years to the right. There is good news in the chart. NRC has been hiring young people over the past five years, and we are often quite successful in hiring experienced mid-career (mid-40s) individuals who find the challenge of NRC’s work combined with the federal benefits package attractive at that stage of their lives.
I cannot show you the second bow wave because there is so much uncertainty about it. GE in late August submitted its application for certification of the design of the Economic and Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) . Areva has indicated that it will apply for design certification for the Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) as soon as possible.
Various utilities and groups of utilities have expressed interest in submitting combined operating and construction authorization licenses (COLs) within the next two to three years. The Energy Bill has created strong financial incentives for the first movers toward COL applications. The Commission will also face complex license applications for facilities such as the Duke/Cogema mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility in late 2006, and could receive an application for construction authorization for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository as soon as April 2006.
The bottom line is that the Commission will need to manage a large number of very important licensing activities over the next five years in a timely and efficient manner while losing many experienced staffers to retirement, including most of the senior career leadership of the agency. Senator Voinovich took the lead in granting the Commission every statutory personnel change the Commission requested in the Energy Bill. This Committee and the Appropriations Committee have supported the additional resources in FY 2006 that the Commission requested. Now the job is the Commission’s to manage this generational change at NRC, and to ensure that NRC emerges as strong or stronger to meet the challenges of the future. I hope to be part of the Commission as it faces these challenges. We have met similar challenges in the past in areas such as reactor license renewal, transfer of reactor licenses, and certification of dual-purpose spent fuel casks. To be successful this time, the Commission will need to ensure that funds for training new staff are protected against competing resource needs.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to add a brief comment on the NRC career staff. They are the nation’s nuclear safety and security watchdogs. They bring unmatched scientific, engineering and legal expertise to bear to ensure safety and security at our civilian nuclear facilities. They are often criticized, sometimes sharply and personally, by those who do not prevail in NRC’s regulatory processes, for making decisions or recommending actions consistent with the law, NRC’s regulations, and sound engineering judgment. Perhaps no regulator will ever be loved, except by his or her family, but I would urge those interest groups who launch ad hominem attacks on the NRC and especially the staff to refrain in the future.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I will conclude on a personal note. I am the son of an Irish immigrant with four grades of education. He came to this country in the early 1920s, survived the Depression, volunteered at age 36 for the U.S. Army at the start of World War II, served in Europe, returned home to meet my mother, herself the daughter of Irish immigrants, marry her and raise a family by doing manual labor for the Boston Gas Company. He died far too soon from cancer in 1969, but by the time he died he had a son at Harvard, a daughter at Manhattanville, and a second son who would later enter West Point. I am grateful to my mother and my father (and my mother’s father who lived with us until his death in 1970) for always encouraging us to dream big dreams and for teaching us that in this great country acting on those dreams with open eyes can make them possible.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the Committee’s questions.