Matt Dempsey (202) 224-9797

Katie Brown (202) 224-2160                                  

Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Full Committee and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety joint hearing entitled, "Review of the NRC's Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011  10:00 am  

Thank you for holding this hearing today with the full Commission to review the Near-Term Task Force's report-this is a good first step towards understanding the implications of the Fukushima nuclear accident.  The Commission directed the Task Force to identify near-term or immediate operational and regulatory issues, and their report concludes that the Fukushima scenario is unlikely to happen here and that continued nuclear power plant operation and licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to the public.

Chairman Jaczko relayed in our June hearing how, as part of the review, "...We've always asked ourselves the question: Are the plants still safe?  Is there anything we need to do today to address that?  And the answer continues to be no.  That we want to get good information, we have time to do that."  I agree.  It may be a while until we have an adequate assessment of the event but we have the time, and frankly need to take the time, to ensure we learn the right lessons and that any regulatory changes have the maximum benefit to safety.

In that spirit, the Task Force describes how, following the Three Mile Island event, the NRC took a number of actions which were not subjected to a structured review, and which "were subsequently not found to be of substantial safety benefit and were removed."  I am pleased to see that a majority of the commissioners are committed to ensuring that the Task Force's recommendations proceed through a structured review process that incorporates the views of a wide range of agency staff, the NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, industry, and other stakeholders.  Meanwhile, the full Commission can take actions at any time should new safety information warrant.

There are many facts that we still don't know about the accident, not just about the technical aspects but also emergency preparedness and the impact of external influences on decision-making.  It is important to remember that the Japanese regulatory system is very different from our own.  I believe it is crucial for the NRC to understand those differences in order to assess whether proposed regulatory changes will accurately and adequately address actual problems highlighted by the Fukushima accident.  Accordingly, I have sent a letter to each of you and look forward to receiving your responses.  I was pleased to see Commissioner Svinicki endorse that concept.  I was also disappointed to hear from the Chairman that he considers it too "difficult and time-consuming".

I don't believe that an accident in a country with different regulatory systems and practices means that ours are broken.  I think the NRC must take the time to learn, not just the technical lessons from Fukushima, but also the regulatory and policy lessons.  I hope the NRC will focus on solving specific safety weaknesses highlighted by the Fukushima event rather than allowing itself to become distracted by redesigning a regulatory framework that has served this country well.  As the NRC's Efficiency Principle of Good Regulation States: "Regulatory actions should be consistent with the degree of risk reduction they achieve."  A structured process akin to the comments of Commissioners Magwood, Svinicki, and Ostendorff goes a long way toward ensuring that.