Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords, I-Vt.
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety
Oversight Hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Today's hearing continues our ongoing oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Chairman Voinovich, you and Ranking Member Carper deserve credit for continuing the commitment to hold these hearings regularly in order to review the NRC’s activities. I appreciate that all the Commissioners have made the effort to be with us today. While we intend to hold several other nuclear hearings this Congress, this may be my last opportunity as Ranking Member to address all of the Commissioners as a group. During my time as both Chairman and Ranking Member, I have followed your careers. I have supported your confirmations, some of you to your first term, some to a second, and one of you to an unprecedented third term. Four of you know the Senate well, having served as former Senate staffers. In fact, three of you served as staffers for this very Committee. I know you all to be dedicated public servants, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your service to our country. Your job is not easy, it takes you away from family and friends, and it involves an area of great responsibility - regulating the nation's civilian use of nuclear materials. I believe the mission you carry out is one of the most vital roles of the federal government. Ensuring adequate protection of public health and safety when nuclear materials are used to produce power and are disposed of is a critically important job. In light of the NRC’s mission, I want to share my views on a few issues with you. The NRC has no greater responsibility than safety. I want the people of Vermont and across the country to be safe and it is the NRC's job to ensure that happens. And much as it seems that the Commission and the nuclear industry may be planning for and anticipating a “nuclear renaissance” with new plants, we must maintain continued oversight over existing plants. I make this point because I am concerned that we may lose track of how dependent we are upon existing and aging nuclear plants. The real “nuclear renaissance” has been in our efforts to extend the lives of our existing plants by boosting their power output and extending the terms of their licenses. We haven’t built any new plants. Revitalizing old plants is where we’ve truly grown our reliance upon nuclear power in the last few years. That dependence will only grow in the near future. I urge you to maintain the NRC’s focus on ensuring these plants continue to operate safely even as we are asking them to fill more of our nation’s energy demand. I also feel the NRC needs to redouble its efforts to work with the public, and to shore up public confidence in your regulatory efforts. I continue to hear from ordinary constituents that the NRC regulatory processes are too complex, too closed, too technical, and that they stifle, rather than promote, public participation. For people to embrace future use of nuclear technology, they must feel they are being heard by the agency. Again, I thank Chairman Diaz and the rest of the Commissioners for coming here to discuss these issues. I look forward to their testimony and to working with my colleagues.