Opening Statement of Ranking Member Carper: “Hearing to Examine a Discussion Draft Bill, S.____, American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020”

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing titled; “Hearing to Examine a Discussion Draft Bill, S.____, American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:


“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing—one that I think is particularly important given the current state of our country and the world. As the United States continues to battle a deadly respiratory pandemic that has tragically claimed the lives of more than 159,000 Americans, emerging evidence continues to show that people living in places with greater, longer-term exposure to air pollution are experiencing worse health outcomes. So at a time when breathing clean air is paramount to public health and quality of life, it’s only right that we talk about the potential for nuclear power.


“Today, nuclear power is our nation’s largest source of clean, reliable, carbon-free energy. That’s why when I think about nuclear power, I think about clean air. I also think about economic opportunity and the potential we have as a nation to lead the world in advanced nuclear technologies. In fact, there was a time not long ago when the U.S. did lead the world in nuclear manufacturing, construction and production.


“By supporting the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies that are being developed here at home—technologies that are safer, that produce less spent fuel, that are cheaper to build and operate, and that provide good-paying manufacturing, construction and operating jobs for Americans—the U.S. can lead the world again.


“I believe that Congress – and this committee in particular – has an important role to play in ensuring that our nation invests wisely in nuclear energy, while maintaining our focus on safety, to ensure cleaner air for our people and this planet we call home.


“That’s why, in the last Congress, I was proud to work with you, Mr. Chairman, and with several of our colleagues to enact the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, also known as NEIMA.


“Among many things, NEIMA directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a new framework to accept and process license applications for advanced nuclear technologies.


“These changes are already being implemented at the NRC today, resulting in greater efficiency and transparency in the licensing process. With NEIMA, we are moving closer than ever before to making advanced nuclear power a reality in this country, and we’re doing so without jeopardizing safety.


“The draft legislation before us today represents the Chairman’s efforts to build on NEIMA’s success and it attempts to move us even closer to that reality.


“A number of us on this committee – and that certainly includes me – share our Chairman’s enthusiasm in supporting advanced nuclear technologies.  Let me be clear in saying that I support the broader goal of what this legislation aims to accomplish.


“That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t hasten to add that I have several serious reservations with the legislation as it is currently drafted, and I suspect that some of our colleagues both on and off this committee share several of those reservations.


“Let me mention a few of them here this morning.  I am particularly concerned with the additional changes to the permitting process, which I believe could result in unintended adverse consequences for environmental quality, public safety and public health.


“After we only recently made a number of necessary changes to the NRC’s regulatory structure for advanced nuclear technologies through NEIMA, I fear that making additional, unwarranted changes at this time could seriously disrupt the regulatory process in a way that threatens the safety reviews of these new technologies.


“We have seen the damage that nuclear power can inflict if proper safety precautions are not in place, are not kept up to date, or are not followed. Safety has been and must always remain a top priority in the operation of nuclear reactors and, oftentimes, regularly conducting these safety reviews is a critical part of ensuring the safety that we all seek.


“It’s also critically important that the NRC remains the world’s gold standard of nuclear regulatory agencies. I believe we all agree that a strong, independent NRC is essential to ensuring a safe nuclear industry. A safe nuclear industry is essential to ensuring public confidence.  And, maintaining public confidence in this vital industry is absolutely essential to ensuring that nuclear power can continue to play the vital role that it plays in this country and – I believe – around the world. 


“If we want to lead the world in advance nuclear technologies – and I believe that many of us do – we must be careful – very careful – not to jeopardize the still promising future of the nuclear industry by further streamlining safety regulations, largely for the sake of streamlining. Colleagues, if we do not proceed with genuine caution on this front, short-cuts on safety will do more to harm this industry in the long-run, not help it.


“I won’t dwell on it this morning, but I also have several concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency incentive program for the existing nuclear industry that is included in this bill, especially in light of the recent cuts to EPA’s budget.


“We need to keep in mind that the proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2021 calls for cutting EPA’s budget by 27 percent, a reduction of $2.4 billion from the appropriation we enacted for the current fiscal year. By creating this new program at EPA, without new funding, we run the risk of asking the agency to do even more with – quite possibly – far fewer resources.


“With those cautionary notes in mind, Mr. Chairman, let me thank you again for holding today’s hearing. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss those concerns further, both today and in the days to come. I also appreciate the opportunity for us to focus, as well, today on the potential that nuclear power holds our country, and what it can still mean for our air quality, economy and global competitiveness.


“When it comes to nuclear power, we have a real opportunity here. If we’re smart about it, we’ll seize that opportunity, and we’ll do so without forgoing safety.  And, if we’re smart about it, we’ll enable our country to reap the economic, environmental and public health benefits that flow from realizing that opportunity.  And, America will be a world leader in nuclear energy once again while helping to make Planet Earth a safer, healthier home for us all. 


“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”