Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
“Hearing on the Nominations of Jeffery M. Baran and Stephen G. Burns to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission”
September 9, 2014

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)


 Today, the EPW Committee is considering two nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Jeffery Baran and Stephen Burns.  These two nominees are qualified and accomplished professionals who have demonstrated they have the ability to get the job done. 


Mr. Baran has had more than 10 years of experience working on nuclear energy issues in the House, including in his current role as Staff Director for Energy and Environment on the Energy and Commerce Committee.  He also spent more than five years as that Committee’s counsel, and five years as counsel on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  At the Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Baran was the lead staffer on 13 NRC hearings, including those related to NRC’s structure, nuclear waste and post-Fukushima safety.  He also worked on legislation related to the NRC and other nuclear issues.  On a personal note, I want to congratulate Mr. Baran and his wife on the birth of their son, Gus, on Friday.


Over the past three decades, Mr. Burns has served in many roles at NRC, most recently as General Counsel from 2009 to 2012.  He has also served as senior staff to a former Chairman and Deputy Director of the Regional Operations and Enforcement Division.  Mr. Burns has played a critical role on a wide range of NRC policy and enforcement activities.  Since 2012, Mr. Burns has been the Head of Legal Affairs for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency.NRC’s mission is “to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment.”  I believe the nominees’ experience and understanding of NRC’s legal framework will serve them well in supporting NRC’s mission. 


Today, I want to highlight some of my concerns about the way NRC has strayed from its fundamental mission and talk about several issues the NRC Commissioners must redouble their efforts to address. 


First, NRC has failed to require reactor operators to complete implementation of any of the safety measures recommended by the Commission’s top experts in the three and a half years since the Fukushima disaster in Japan.


Second, NRC’s responsiveness to Congressional requests for information has fallen far short of its legal obligations.


Finally, I am concerned that the Commission is not ensuring that safety is its primary focus in my home state of California. 


At the Diablo Canyon facility, NRC has failed to require the proper consideration of seismic safety issues, which could defer any needed safety upgrades to 2018 or even later.


Another safety issue is at San Onofre’s decommissioning nuclear plant, which still has a significant amount of spent fuel in the facility’s pools.  NRC’s own studies have shown that the consequences of a fire at a spent nuclear fuel pool could be as bad as a severe accident at a nuclear reactor.  This could be devastating for the more than 10 million people who live near the facility.


In addition, San Onofre’s operator has asked the NRC for exemptions from many safety and security requirements that are designed to protect nearby communities.  These include the emergency response measures that were put in place after Three Mile Island, security measures that were first required after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and safety measures that were ordered after Fukushima.  In the past, NRC has rubber stamped every single request for exemptions made by decommissioning reactor operators, and I believe the Commission must reconsider this approach.


Safety must be the paramount consideration of the NRC.  I believe the nominees before us today are highly qualified, and their commitment to NRC’s mission will increase the level of confidence the American people have in the safety of the nation’s nuclear facilities. 


I look forward to moving quickly to fill the two vacancies at the NRC, and we plan to act on these nominations later this week.