Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Oversight Hearing: NRC's Implementation of the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force Recommendations and other Actions to Enhance and Maintain Nuclear Safety"
November 21, 2013
(Remarks as Prepared for Delivery)

Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee is holding its eighth oversight hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan in March 2011.

The consequences of the terrible events in Fukushima, Japan have spurred us to rethink how to ensure safety at the 100 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States.

In October 2011, the NRC created a Task Force to review such safety problems, and that Task Force made 12 recommendations to help prevent a similar disaster at nuclear facilities in the U.S.

Since Fukushima, the NRC has issued orders that include enhancing safety measures when plants lose electrical power and increasing the reliability of venting systems that reduce the likelihood of explosions. However, there are problems with the pace of implementation of NRC's new orders.

For example, the NRC approved industry's request for a six-month delay in updating these evaluations for reactors in the Central and Eastern U.S. The NRC gave reactors in the Western U.S. -- where seismic risks are greater -- even more time to complete their seismic evaluations and safety upgrades.

Earthquakes do not wait until the nuclear industry is ready to deal with such threats. And, families who live near nuclear facilities should not have to wait one additional day for needed safety enhancements at nuclear reactors.

This is a key point for the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility near San Luis Obispo. Scientists discovered a new fault that is just off shore from the Diablo Canyon plant. Government experts inside and outside of the NRC believe this fault represents a threat to the facility. Serious questions have been raised regarding whether this facility meets NRC's license requirements, given the wealth of new information regarding seismic hazards at this site.

We intend to continue our thorough oversight of these matters, which brings me to an issue that affects this committee's ability to accomplish its important Constitutional oversight role. The NRC has recently made a unilateral and disturbing change to its policies on providing information to Congress. The NRC's previous policy provided documents to Members of Congress serving on committees with NRC oversight authority and to Members requesting information about nuclear facilities in their states or districts.

Without notifying the EPW Committee and -- I believe acting outside of the NRC's authority -- the Commission issued a new policy with substantial hurdles and delays that could even be used to withhold information entirely from the Chairs and Ranking Members of oversight committees.

The new policy allows the NRC to broadly deny information to individual Members of Congress, even when the information is related to matters affecting their home states.

We also learned that the NRC polled many other agencies and found its new policy was more restrictive than any other agency surveyed.

Congress' authority and responsibility to conduct oversight is grounded in the U.S. Constitution. The NRC is an "independent agency," which means it is independent from the Executive Branch - not from Congressional oversight.

My on-going investigation of the recently-closed San Onofre nuclear power plant demonstrates the importance of Congressional oversight, which the NRC cannot and must not obstruct.

Just this week, NRC personnel attempted to restrict my staff's review of records that I had requested related to the on-going San Onofre investigation and even told my staff that they could be searched to ensure they had not taken any documents. Let me be clear -- no form of agency intimidation or obstruction will be tolerated in this Committee's investigation or its Constitutional oversight responsibilities.

Action will be taken if you do not reverse your policy.

Another concern I have is that this Committee's efforts to schedule oversight hearings have been consistently impeded by claims the NRC Commissioners are unavailable due to foreign travel. An initial review of travel records for those Commissioners who make such information publicly available reveals nearly 100 days of foreign travel by these Commissioners since 2010 - 100 days of foreign travel. I intend to request a complete accounting of each Commissioners' foreign travel since the date of their first confirmation.

I look forward to hearing more about that issue.

I plan to continue very active oversight on the NRC, and I have many questions for this panel.