"Hearing on the Nominations of Allison Macfarlane and Kristine Svinicki
to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission"
June 13, 2012
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works meets to consider the nomination of Dr. Allison Macfarlane as Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the re-nomination of Kristine Svinicki to the NRC.
The NRC has one critical mission -- it is the key federal agency charged with ensuring safety at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors.
Nothing underscores the important role played by the NRC more than the Fukushima disaster. That disaster in Japan was a wakeup call to each of us that safety at our nuclear power plants cannot be taken for granted and must reflect the lessons of Fukushima.
I want to remind everyone here today what happened in Japan more than a year ago: a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of the Japan, triggering a tsunami that is reported to have reached up to 45 feet high and stretched up to six miles inland.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant was hit hard -- it lost power, multiple hydrogen gas explosions tore apart reactor buildings, containment structures were damaged, three nuclear reactors melted down, and radiation poured out into the environment.
People's lives were uprooted by evacuations to avoid the threat of radiation poisoning. Many of these men, women, and children have yet to return to their homes -- some may never go back.
As I reflect on the Fukushima disaster, I think about communities in my home state of California and the people who live near these two nuclear facilities: the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. Nearly 8.7 million people live within 50 miles of San Onofre, and almost 500,000 people live within 50 miles of Diablo Canyon.
The thought of those families facing an unimaginable accident - even a fraction of what the people of Japan faced during the Fukushima disaster -- makes me even more vigilant about safety when it comes to nuclear power. Much more work needs to be done by the NRC in the aftermath of Fukushima. As I review the activities of the NRC, I feel that without the leadership of the current Chairman, Greg Jaczko, we would be even further behind on safety than we are.
I am impressed by the President's nominee, Dr. Allison Macfarlane, who brings to this position the critical experience, intelligence, scientific background, and integrity that we need in the NRC Chairman.
I ask unanimous consent to place in the record statements of support for Dr. Macfarlane, including one from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which stated that: "We expect her to be a strong advocate for practical steps to enhance nuclear power safety and security." (Union Concerned Scientists Statement, May 24, 2012)
In addition, the Nuclear Energy Institute urged the Senate to confirm Dr. Macfarlane "expeditiously." (Nuclear Energy Institute Statement, May 24, 2012)
Dr. Macfarlane, I look forward to hearing your views on the role of the NRC in ensuring the safety of the American people.
Regarding Commissioner Svinicki's nomination, it should come as no surprise that I am deeply troubled by this Commissioner's statements at her prior nomination hearing that she did not work directly on Yucca Mountain, which she clearly did. I also believe Commissioner Svinicki has not demonstrated the commitment to safety that the American people have a right to expect in this post-Fukushima era.
Just yesterday, I learned that Commissioner Svinicki actively opposed my reasonable request for an NRC investigation into how a redesign of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant occurred without proper oversight by the NRC. That plant has now shut down due to unexplained deterioration of steam generator tubes containing radioactive material. Had Commissioner's Svinicki's position prevailed, we would have seen stonewalling by the NRC. I want to thank Commissioner Ostendorff and Chairman Jaczko for not allowing this stonewalling to occur.
I ask unanimous consent to place in the record letters of opposition to Commissioner Svinicki's re-nomination. I intend to closely question Commissioner Svinicki during this hearing on her safety record, including on issues that directly affect my home state of California.
The American people have a right to expect the best public servants in these critical positions. I look forward to hearing from both of you today.
I now turn to Ranking Member Inhofe for his opening statement.