EPW Hearing Statement: Oversight Hearing Examining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held an oversight hearing examining the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s important hearing. We are here today to continue our oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and to hear more about the President’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020.  It is my sincere hope that this is just the beginning of our Committee’s budget hearings over the agencies in which we have jurisdiction. Since joining the Environment and Public Works Committee, I have worked closely with our colleagues to strengthen the ‘culture of safety’ within the U.S. nuclear energy industry.  In part due to our collective efforts, and thanks to the NRC leadership and the Commission’s dedicated staff, the NRC continues to be the world’s gold standard for nuclear regulatory agencies.

“However, we are here to look forward, not backward. We need to ensure that the NRC continues to have the tools necessary to be successful. We also need to ensure that NRC actions taken this year have safety in mind in order to ensure that America’s nuclear power remains the safest in the world.

“Today, I am interested in learning whether the President’s budget – which, I believe, falls short in a number of areas – will provide the NRC with sufficient funding to protect the public, while being responsive to the legitimate need of the industry that’s being overseen. Almost any organization needs strong leadership, a dedicated workforce and the appropriate resources to be successful.  I support improving the NRC’s efficiency and its flexibility to respond to changes in the nuclear industry; however, we cannot cut the agency’s budget just for the sake of cutting. We must ensure that the NRC has adequate funding to continue to attract the best and brightest talent so that the agency continues to be the global gold standard for safety.

“Beyond the budget, I am particularly interested in hearing today more about why the NRC decided to change course regarding the post-Fukushima rule. Our nuclear reactors must be able to withstand seismic or flooding events, regardless of when the reactor was built.  Requiring our nuclear reactors, most of which were built decades ago, to withstand earthquake and flooding risks beyond the capacity of their original design makes no sense to me. 

“This issue goes well beyond being able to withstand a similar event that occurred in Fukushima. As we continue to see the worsening effects of climate change nationwide, our nuclear fleet will experience flooding, drought and other extreme weather events more frequently. As we saw in Ellicott City, Maryland, and recently in the Midwest, 1,000-year flooding events are happening every couple of years, not every 1,000 years. We need for our nuclear fleet to be prepared for this new climate reality.

“Why the NRC has decided to reverse course from its proposal and make these protections voluntary is still unclear to me – especially since according to NRC’s own staff – no one asked for this change. Not industry, not staff – no one. With that said, I look forward to learning more today from the NRC about why its members decided to take this approach.

“I am also interested in hearing today how the NRC plans to implement changes in the advanced nuclear reactor licensing framework, as Congress directed in the recently passed Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, or NEIMA. This legislation is supported by both the Chairman and me, as well as by many other members of this committee.

“I believe if our country is smart, we will replace older nuclear technology with new technology developed right here at home.  That includes advances which are safer, produce less spent fuel and are cheaper to build and operate. In doing so, we can reap the economic benefits, along with the clean air benefits of a new, advanced nuclear electricity generation.

“In closing, let me again reiterate the importance of making sure that the NRC has the resources it needs to review these new technologies and ensure our current nuclear reactor fleet remains safe.  

“I thank the NRC Commission for being here today and look forward to your testimony.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”