Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget.”

Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.

“Thank you, Chairman, and thank all of you for being here. It is nice to see a full complement. And it's good to see you, Ms. Caputo, because my first visit to a nuclear plant was with you. So it's we've been around the bend on this, so great to see you.

“Since our last Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight hearing 16 months ago, major events, both here and abroad, make clear the urgent need for the United States to lead in civil nuclear energy.

“The first new nuclear unit at Southern Company’s Vogtle site in Georgia went critical recently, it is now connected to the electric grid and is on the brink of commencing commercial operation.

“This is the first new commercial nuclear reactor in a generation and I think it’s a major achievement for America’s nuclear industry.

“It is also the first new reactor design to be fully developed, licensed, and constructed since Congress established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission nearly 50 years ago.

“Advanced reactor development is progressing as numerous states pursue the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies, including my home state of West Virginia.

“West Virginia is assessing options to deploy nuclear energy, building on our state’s proud legacy of serving as a leading energy provider.

“While we reinvigorate our domestic nuclear sector, global events necessitate that America really reasserts our international leadership here.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine reinforces the fact that energy security is synonymous with national security.

“Russia sought to use Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas to destabilize our allies’ resolve to support Ukraine.

“Instead, we expedited export shipments of American LNG to our European friends and increased energy cooperation.

“It is also reported that Rosatom, Russia’s state-backed nuclear company, is actively supporting the war.

“Every dollar that goes to Rosatom is helping Putin and Russia, and Russia has been aggressive in trying to gain political leverage and commercial footholds through the export of its nuclear technologies, services, and fuels abroad.

“Meanwhile, our government, alongside American companies, is working to counter Russia’s strategic nuclear engagement by building relationships with nations around the world to construct U.S. reactor technology.

“Doing so will establish decades-long partnerships in the nuclear supply chain, the use of advanced nuclear fuels, and reactor operations.

“U.S. companies have already have entered into agreements with Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic, just to name a few.

“These circumstances dictate that America can, and should, lead in nuclear energy development.

“Central to realizing the opportunities for new nuclear here and in foreign markets is an effective domestic nuclear safety regulator: you all.

“This is why I recently introduced the ADVANCE Act with nine cosponsors as the chairman spoke about, including Chairman Carper and also Senator Whitehouse. And we’re picking up sponsors we hope.

“The bill facilitates greater international engagement by the NRC, and other federal agencies, to help win the geostrategic nuclear energy competition.

“This will position our American businesses to better compete with Russia and Chinese nuclear companies.

“This bill helps states like mine, like West Virginia pursue advanced nuclear technologies by reducing regulatory costs and providing regulatory certainty.

“The bill assists the NRC in efficiently fulfilling its core nuclear safety mission with expert staff in a predictable and timely manner.

“While we look to provide the Commission additional direction and authority, Congress needs to also carefully consider how the agency is functioning. That’s why we’re here today.

“This morning, we will hear from the NRC Chair and the Commissioners regarding the Fiscal Year 2024 proposed budget.

“While the current amount of work the NRC is conducting for its core licensing and regulatory oversight purpose is down, the Commission is asking for significant new funding, in part to prepare for potential licensing work for new reactors.

“The NRC’s budget must be become more efficient in order to be ready for that anticipated workload.

“Last year, this mystifies me, we’ll have to get into this, the Commission did not spend more than $90 million of its allotted funding.

“That means about ten percent of the NRC’s total budget authority went unspent.

“I do appreciate that the Commission is proposing to apply some of that carryover funding to this year’s budget request.

“However, when much of the Commission’s budget is funded by regulated utilities and ultimately electric ratepayers, the Commission should not, I don’t believe, be carrying over large ‘balances’ from year to year.

“Just as important as finding efficiencies in the NRC’s management of its money is also addressing how the NRC can perform its licensing and regulatory oversight work more efficiently as well.

“In January, I requested information regarding the Commission’s telework policy and the number of staff that are regularly in the office. And thank you for coming to my office and presenting that report.

“Nearly 60 percent of the workforce is in the office fewer than three days per week.

“I am concerned that the expansion of, and reliance upon, remote work will have unforeseen negative consequences on operational efficiency.

“The NRC is predicting annual attrition rates of seven percent for the next three to five years.

“In my view, it is imperative that workforce development programs enable the new staff to work side-by-side with experienced staff to see firsthand how the Commission’s work is performed and to pass along known best practices.

“Significant reliance on telework and video calls, I believe, will hamper the ability of the staff to efficiently review and approve license applications.

“NRC’s workload and associated challenges with licensing multiple first-of-its-kind advanced reactors during the next decade is so significant.

“Congress has appropriated billions of dollars to facilitate the development of advanced nuclear reactors and therefore timely and effective regulatory review is essential.

“All five of the commissioners recently spoke to the NRC’s ability to ‘meet the moment’ and successfully realize the bipartisan congressional support for advanced nuclear policy.

“Congress must ensure the ‘moment’ is not missed along with you all.

“Since the NRC’s establishment, a series of reports have consistently identified deficiencies in the NRC’s work.

“For example, about 30 years ago, two reports – the Towers-Perrin and Center for Strategic and International Studies reports – identified major shortcomings in the NRC’s effectiveness and posture.

“The NRC responded to those reports at the time by successfully repositioning the Commission to respond to the dynamic changes that are facing the nuclear industry.

“To enable the NRC to effectively carry out its foundational Atomic Energy Act charge, and in light of the forthcoming licensing work, it may be time to undertake another comprehensive analysis to ensure that the Commission, and our nation, is well positioned to deploy a new generation of nuclear designs.

“I look forward to further conversation and appreciate you all coming in today.

“Thank you.”

 

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