In Connecticut, we are beginning to emerge from what has been a disturbing three year period with respect to our four nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, our plants went from being among the best-run in the industry to being shut down and placed on the NRC's Watch List of most problematic plants.
The NRC, led by Dr. Shirley Jackson, has undertaken one of the most extensive safety reviews ever with respect to Millstone 3, and, just this month, the plant received approval to restart. Dr. Jackson has committed that there will be extensive continuing oversight of the Millstone 3 operation. In addition, Dr. Jackson has committed that the review of Millstone 2 would be equally intensive before any decision on restart is made. These two commitments are very important to me.
In addition to the extensive nature of the review at Millstone, the process was marked by a fresh approach at the NRC: one of openness, of listening and responding to the community. Dr. Jackson came to southeast Connecticut, spoke to the residents who lived near the plant, and told them she was accountable for ensuring that only a safe Millstone would be allowed to restart.
Recently, the NRC has come under attack from both the industry and some on the Senate Appropriations Committee for "over-regulation.". Some critics believe that the NRC seeks "blind adherence" with regulations that don't have safety significance..
I am a supporter of nuclear energy. I believe it can be a part of improving some of the world's environmental problems, including air pollution and global warming. But in order for there to be a future for this industry, it is critical for the public to maintain confidence in the industry-- and confidence requires a strong, competent and effective Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
I do not believe that the current NRC over-regulates, inspects too much, enforces too much or has adopted an overly restrictive body of regulations. The issue in my state until recently has been the opposite. In fact, I believe that with the new safety initiatives undertaken by Chairman Jackson, the NRC has finally moved toward regaining some of the public confidence that is so important. These initiatives include: limiting inappropriate use of enforcement discretion; requiring utilities to verify whether they are operating in accordance with their design basis ; undertaking a review of NRC oversight of changes made by utilities without prior NRC approval; improving the inspection process; paying increased attention to use of quantitative performance indicators; and reforming the senior management process. Many of these initiatives were direct responses to what happened at Millstone.
Recently, I was very pleased that the NRC voted in favor of requiring that states consider the use of potassium iodide-- which can protect residents against cancer in the event of an accident-- as part of their emergency planning. This ends a 20 year fight which I became involved in about four years ago, along with our former colleague, Senator Alan Simpson.
Dr. Jackson also has taken major actions to make the NRC more responsive to problems raised by whistleblowers, building on unfortunate experiences in Connecticut.
While the NRC has taken some important steps forward, it needs to continue to keep improving its approach to safety. In a report prepared for me in May 1997, the GAO raised serious concerns about instances in the past in which the NRC has neither taken aggressive enforcement action nor held nuclear plant licensees accountable for correcting their problems on a timely basis. The GAO criticized the NRC for problems in the inspection process, such as not including timetables for the completion of corrective action and for not evaluating the competency of the licensees' plant managers as part of the on-going inspection process. In addition, the GAO found that the senior management meeting, designed to focus attention on those plants with declining safety performance, was not serving its goal of being an early warning tool.
The GAO also raised a concern that the NRC's regulations do not provide the public with specific definitions and conditions that define the safety of a plant. A similar criticism has been raised by science groups.