Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Joint Hearing: Full Committee and Subcommittee on
Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
"Review of the NRC's Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century"
December 15, 2011
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
It is the responsibility of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) to conduct oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and to ensure that the nuclear industry maintains the highest level of safety for the American public.
Let me start by reading NRC's mission statement: "The mission of the NRC is to license and regulate the Nation's civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials in order to protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment."
Today is the fifth time the Members of this Committee have gathered in this room to discuss nuclear safety following the Fukushima crisis in Japan in March. At each of those meetings, I have repeatedly asked the NRC to heed the wakeup call from Fukushima, to reevaluate the safety and security of nuclear power plants in the United States, and to implement the recommendations of the Near-Term Task Force as soon as possible.
In fact, at our last NRC hearing on August 2, four of you made the commitment to me that you would move forward on some or all of the Near-Term Task Force recommendations within 90 days. To my great disappointment, that hasn't happened.
Although Chairman Jaczko repeatedly asked you to keep your commitment to move expeditiously on safety, you are more than a month overdue in that commitment. It doesn't appear to me that such action is set to occur any time soon.
Colleagues, less than a week after the Task Force delivered its report to the NRC, Chairman Jaczko laid out a road map to address the lessons learned from Fukushima, and he set a deadline of October 21 for action on those recommendations. He was proactive, because without a specific timetable for those common-sense safety measures, the NRC will not live up to its mandate to require nuclear power plants to be safe and reliable.
But instead of taking action, every Commissioner except Chairman Jaczko focused on delay in the form of re-review. Guess what the result was -- that re-review came to the same conclusions as the first review. So here we are on December 15, and not one of those safety recommendations has been accepted and acted on. That is simply inexcusable - slow walking needed reforms after a disaster like Fukushima, where widespread contamination has set back Japan immeasurably, must not be an option.
Yesterday, instead of focusing on nuclear plant safety, a House Committee conducted a witch hunt and attempted to assassinate the character of a dedicated public servant. Frankly, I was shocked and appalled.
One of you Commissioners even said in written testimony that the Chairman was abusive to women. I asked my staff to check out this accusation, and let me tell you what they found. They found the opposite - in fact that the Chairman, according to one respected female staffer, was "the most fair person" she has ever met. She went on to say "he treats everyone equally." Other comments include "he invites people to dissent and I have never seen him mistreat others." One woman said "what I am floored by is the conduct of the other Commissioners."
Our nation is fortunate to have Greg Jaczko sitting in the Chairman's seat, because he is a proven leader. I believe that without his leadership on the Commission, the NRC might never have implemented the important safety recommendations made after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The NRC must focus on safety, and it must take action without delay if nuclear power is to maintain the public trust. As a July 23rd New York Times editorial stated, "If nuclear power is to have a future in this country, Americans have to have confidence that regulators and the industry are learning the lessons of Fukushima and taking all steps necessary to ensure safety."
The American people's faith in nuclear power was shaken by the Fukushima crisis, and the American public rightly expects the NRC to redouble its efforts to ensure that our nuclear plants are the safest in the world, but that has not happened yet.
Let me tell you what happens when people lose confidence in the NRC and the nuclear industry. Right now, there is a petition being circulated for a ballot initiative that would effectively shut down the two nuclear power plants in California. I believe we will see more of that across the country if America doesn't have confidence in the NRC.
If the NRC does not do its job, the American people will demand the ultimate protection - the shutdown of old nuclear power plants that have similar characteristics as the Fukushima plant.
I hope going forward that our Committee Members and all five NRC Commissioners focus on what is really important - safety - and that we stay away from the politics of personal destruction.