WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Committee.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s important hearing. Oversight is a critical part of this committee’s work. The subject of this hearing is also very timely, as the nuclear industry faces significant challenges. The nuclear industry is at a crossroads. The path the industry decides to take will have ramifications for our country and its citizens for decades to come.
“Let me begin by noting that it is important to examine the benefits – and drawbacks – of nuclear energy. First, and foremost, nuclear power helps curb our nation’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels and reduces air pollution that threatens our health and climate. Second, nuclear energy has been – and can continue to be – a real economic driver. It creates construction, manufacturing and operations jobs for communities across this nation.
“Despite all the benefits of nuclear power, I would be remiss not to mention some of the potential consequences of nuclear energy. We have seen, from serious incidents in places like Fukushima, the damage that nuclear power can cause if the proper safety precautions are not in place, not up to date, or not strictly followed. With nuclear energy, safety has been and must remain a top priority in the operation of nuclear reactors.
“Unfortunately, the costs of safety precautions – along with the costs of construction, operation and maintenance – for current nuclear reactors can be expensive, especially when compared to the costs of other sources of energy, such as natural gas. In fact, some U.S. reactors are retiring sooner than expected due to market forces. At the same time, our country’s nuclear reactors are getting older and will need to be replaced in the years to come. Building new reactors – as we’ve seen in Georgia and in South Carolina – has proven more difficult than predicted a decade ago.
“As most of my colleagues know, I often try to see the glass half-full, and I believe that the challenges the nuclear industry faces today can make it stronger and more efficient tomorrow. If our country is smart, we will replace our aging nuclear reactors with new technology developed in this country that is safer, produces less spent fuel and is cheaper to build and operate. If we seize this opportunity, the U.S. can be a leader in nuclear energy again, reaping the economic and clean air benefits that flow from that leadership. In order to do so, though, we must make sure that the NRC has the resources it needs to review these new technologies and make certain our current nuclear reactor fleet continues to operate safely.
“Since joining the Environment and Public Works Committee, I have worked closely with my colleagues to strengthen the ‘culture of safety’ within the U.S. nuclear energy industry. In part due to our collective efforts, and to the NRC leadership and the Commission’s dedicated staff, the NRC continues to be the world’s gold standard for nuclear regulatory agencies.
“Success at any organization starts with the leadership at top, and I must say I have been quite impressed with the current Commission at the NRC and its members’ ability to work with each other. Each Commissioner brings a unique set of skills to the Commission, which has served the NRC – and our country – well. These three Commissioners have done an excellent job; however, having a full complement of NRC Commissioners would be ideal.
“As my colleagues know, the committee has reported out some quality NRC nominees, including Jeff Baran’s renomination, that await Senate confirmation. I hope we can quickly confirm all three of the NRC nominees, giving the nuclear industry critical regulatory certainty at a time when there is so much uncertainty in other areas.
“An organization also needs a strong and dedicated workforce, with the necessary resources, in order to be successful. At one time, employees ranked the NRC as the top place in the federal government to work, but now the NRC is 11th. Budget cuts and uncertainty in the nuclear industry play a big role in this change. I look forward to hearing from the Commissioners today about all of these issues, but most importantly, would like to hear what more we can do to better retain and recruit a quality workforce at the NRC, which is still revered across the globe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”