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, "Oversight Hearing: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Preliminary Results of the Nuclear Safety Review in the United States following the Emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant in Japan."

Thursday, June 16, 2011 10:00 am

Chairman Boxer, I'd like to begin by thanking you for honoring your commitment to act on the re-nomination of Commissioner Ostendorff for a full, five-year term.  Our country is best served by a complete Commission with each member contributing their diverse views and acting as a collegial body.  Commissioner Ostendorff's expertise is invaluable and given the unanimous vote in this Committee, I hope he will be confirmed immediately.

I also want to thank you for having this hearing.  It has been over three months since the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan and resulted in the world's second largest nuclear accident in history.  I am pleased that we will finally hear from all five commissioners on the agency's actions to ensure the safety of our nuclear plants based on lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.

But first, I want to take a moment to acknowledge a report by the NRC Inspector General (IG) into NRC Chairman Jaczko's conduct with regard to the Yucca Mountain license application.  I was concerned about this very situation in 2005 when he appeared before this Committee for the first time: that his prior work in opposition to Yucca Mountain would impair his ability to act fairly as a commissioner and so I asked him to recuse himself.  His conduct has clearly damaged the credibility of the agency and warrants oversight hearings by this Committee.

However, what I find most disconcerting in the IG's report is the image of a Chairman who withholds information from his colleagues, acts unilaterally, and rules by intimidation.  While the IG may have focused on the Chairman's involvement with Yucca Mountain, I believe misconduct extends beyond that.   This first became apparent to me while preparing for our last hearing, on April 12th, when I heard that the Majority was breaking with the Committee precedent of having the full commission testify.  I was surprised to learn that we would only hear from Chairman Jaczko because he was exercising his emergency powers under Section 3 of the Reorganization Plan of 1980.  Even more unbelievable was that he had not only failed to inform me of his decision on at least two occasions, but he had also failed to inform his colleagues.

Furthermore, in exercising this emergency authority, he acted unilaterally without a firm legal basis, failed to keep his colleagues fully informed, and prohibited them from entering the Operations Center where much of the agency's post-Fukushima work was conducted.   These actions are strikingly similar to some of the IG's conclusions regarding the Chairman's conduct on Yucca Mountain.   More importantly, he chose not to utilize the expertise of his fellow commissioners when confronted with the world's second largest nuclear accident.

A true leader when facing such extraordinary challenges would marshal all resources at his disposal and seek out the best expertise he can.  That would be my expectation of any Chairman responsible for ensuring nuclear safety.   Instead, we have a chairman who, under statute, "SHALL BE GOVERNED BY GENERAL POLICIES OF THE COMMISSION" and yet selectively ignores Commission procedures, discounting them as merely "guidelines" when questioned by the IG.  In the nuclear industry, procedures exist to ensure nuclear safety.  The Chairman should show the same respect for procedures governing his actions that he would expect from licensees.  The public deserves nothing less.