406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

James M. Inhofe


Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety hearing entitled,
"Oversight Hearing: Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
May 05, 2010, 10:00 a.m.
I want to start by saying welcome to our three new commissioners, Magwood, Ostendorff, and Apostolakis.  It’s good to see the NRC with a full complement of commissioners.  I appreciate Senator Carper’s and Vitter’s focus today on the NRC’s Principles of Good Regulation.  These principles can help the public evaluate the NRC’s effectiveness as a regulator.  I will focus my remarks on the new plant licensing process measured against the last principle: reliability.
The NRC has been reviewing applications for new nuclear plants for over two and a half years.  As the Bipartisan Policy Center noted in its recent review, there have been fits and starts in the process—which is not surprising since no one has licensed a new plant in 30 years.   I share the Center’s view that both the NRC staff and the industry have been diligent in working through real challenges.    
The Center also noted, “Nearly all applicants indicated that certainty in scheduling is more crucial than speed.”  I share that view and remain concerned with the lack of complete and publicly available schedules.  Two and a half years have passed and the NRC has yet to indicate when it expects to issue any licenses.  This raises questions of reliability and management. 
The Commission’s testimony states, “By 2012, the NRC MAY be APPROACHING a final decision…” on the first COLs.  Then again, it may not.  That’s hardly a recipe for a predictable licensing process.
I’m glad to hear the Commission voice high regard for the NRC staff’s ability to conduct efficient, predictable, and thorough reviews.  NRC staff and license applicants are laboring to produce Safety Evaluation Reports and Environmental Reports according to schedules outlined by the NRC staff.  This part of the process is the bulk of the new plant license review and resolves the vast majority of issues and questions. I’m pleased that there is a basic schedule for managing this large and complex workload. 
But following the conclusion of the staff’s review, there is no schedule.
NRC Reliability Principles state, “Regulatory actions should always be…decisively administered so as to lend stability to the nuclear operational and planning processes.” 
Let me say that planning the construction of fifteen-billion-dollar nuclear plants is a very complex process.  How can these companies develop a construction schedule and plan the hiring of three thousand construction workers if they don’t know when they can start?  How can investors feel confident about backing these projects if the agency itself is either incapable or unwilling to predict when it will finish its work?
The Commission indicates in its testimony, “The Commission is fully confident that the agency can successfully and effectively meet its regulatory responsibilities with regard to all these matters.”  I’m glad to hear that, but it’s high time the Commission lead by example and give stakeholders a reason to have confidence.  The NRC should make clear to the public, applicants, and investors how it is managing new-plant licensing; it can do this by establishing a transparent process with complete schedules and milestones to measure results.