Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety joint hearing entitled, "Lessons from Fukushima One Year Later: NRC's Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century."
Wednesday, March 15th, 2012, 10:00 am
Thank you, Chairman Boxer, for holding this hearing and focusing on implementing the lessons learned from Fukushima. The efforts will ensure that the safety of nuclear plants in the U.S., and around the world, will be enhanced and the use of nuclear energy sustained over the long term.
Ensuring the safe use of nuclear energy is a very serious job. That is why Congress established an independent commission, the NRC, and charged five commissioners with the responsibility to protect public health and safety. The public is best served by a commission that functions collectively and collegially to pool their expertise. That is why I'm anxious to see progress on the renomination of Commissioner Svinicki which I hope President Obama sends us soon. She is due for renomination in June, and given the scope of issues before the Commission, it is important that the agency continues to benefit from her valuable expertise.
As Chairman Jaczko frequently reminds us, we can't be complacent in regard to nuclear safety. At the same time we can't allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear. Harnessing any energy source carries some measure of risk that must be safely managed.
For the first time in 34 years, the NRC has issued a license to build two new reactors creating 3500 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs. This is a true milestone in the Agency's history and reflects well on the Commissioners present and past that worked so hard to prepare for new applications. Congratulations to those of you who have worked on this license. The Chairman split with his fellow commissioners and opposed the license saying: "I can't support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened. But without this license condition, in my view, that is what we are doing." In fact, one month later, the Commission voted for the new Vogtle units to receive the same Orders issued to existing plants. There was no need for Chairman Jaczko to take his "my way or the highway" approach here, lashing out at his colleagues and implying that they were ignoring the lessons of Fukushima. These Orders, reflecting the lessons of Fukushima, are as applicable at Vogtle as they are at any U.S. facility.
License renewal is an issue I have worked on for over a decade. When I chaired the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee beginning in 1996, we made sure the NRC was prepared to review license renewal applications efficiently, in 24 months (or 30 months if it was contentious). In Massachusetts, the Pilgrim plant filed its application over six years ago. For almost five years, three of those years under Chairman Jaczko's leadership, Pilgrim has been subjected to an unprecedented cycle of contentions and petitions from interveners. Chairman Jaczko again dissented from his colleagues in a recent Commission decision on yet another petition. He wanted to lower a long-established threshold for contentions to allow even more delay to the renewal process.
Chairman Jaczko gave a speech last month and stated that one scenario for nuclear energy's future includes new plant construction and license extensions. He said the other scenario, which is "just as plausible" is that the industry is "unsustainable" and "dominated by a process of continuing decommissioning." He said "I think today there are a number of decisions about nuclear safety and actions related to nuclear safety that may move you on one of those paths versus the other path."
It's clear which path Chairman Jaczko prefers and it's no secret that I strongly disagree with him on that. As NRC Chairman he takes every opportunity to portray himself as the sole commissioner most dedicated to public safety while condemning his colleagues and doing his utmost to hinder and delay licensing actions.
To the other four Commissioners, let me say that your debates and disagreements are healthy and respectful. Your actions may prevent the imposition of an unpredictable regulatory burden that makes nuclear energy economically unfeasible, much the way EPA regulations are driving the premature shutdown of coal-fired power plants. It's up to you four to uphold the NRC's reputation for reasoned and balanced regulation.