We are at a pivotal point in the history of the nuclear industry. We have a mature industry that over the years has provided safe and environmentally friendly energy, much to the dismay of its biggest critics. As we begin the twenty-first century, the industry is beginning the relicensing process for their permits. Just this year the first two nuclear plants have filed for a license renewal. Because of this, the NRC is also at a pivotal point in its history, and we must determine if it is capable of functioning in the next century or if it needs an overhaul of its structure and function.
Over the last year and a half this Subcommittee has spent the majority of its time in Clean Air oversight, debating ozone, particulate matter, and regional haze. Today we are examining a fuel source with basically zero emissions. Our country relies on nuclear energy for 20% of its electrical generation and if people are concerned about reducing air pollution then they must admit that we need a viable nuclear industry and we must begin encouraging the development of new nuclear facilities. I am a realist, I do not expect any new plants to begin construction in the next five years, but we must begin to reform our regulatory process in order to encourage new facilities in the next five to twenty years. If we do not begin today, then we will never achieve the pollution reductions many want without sacrificing our nation's economy.
In order to encourage growth in the industry we must reform the NRC. We will hear a number of "buzz" words today on how the NRC is reforming: phrases such as "risk-informed performance based standards", "stakeholder input", and "performance indicators." The trouble is these terms have been tossed around for years and we have seen no real change at the NRC. I am interested in hearing from the Commissioners and other witnesses on how we can ensure that real change will take place.
The NRC is about to undertake its biggest task in years, the relicensing of plants, and I am doubtful that they are currently up to the task. Decisions at the Commission take too long and sometimes never seem to come to a conclusion. I would like to cite two examples which I believe show an out-of-control regulatory process.
1. The first involves the transfer of a license for Plant Vogtle
The company which owes the facility transferred ownership from one of its subsidiaries to another. All of the managers stayed the same and all of the personnel stayed the same. The only change was on paper. This process took four and a half years.
2. The second involves the proposed uranium enrichment facility in Louisiana. The company spent seven years and $30 million dollars trying to license the plant before giving up. The facility would have used well-known technology that has been used in England for twenty years. This should have been routine.
Both of these examples cause me great concern as we begin the license renewal process. If the NRC and the licensing boards take this long for these cases then I am convinced that unless some drastic changes are made, the relicensing process is doomed before we begin.
I hope today's hearing will begin to examine these issues and we can begin a process of this Committee working closely with the Commission in the months ahead.