Inhofe questions nuclear status

InhofeNRCWashington, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today provided the following opening statement at the EPW Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety hearing titled “NRC’s Implementation of the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force Recommendations and Other Actions to Enhance and Maintain Nuclear Safety.”

It was in 2003, when I was chairman of this committee, that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked Congress for a bigger budget to build a new building and add significantly to its staff to support the expected approval of four design certifications for new reactor designs and 17 Construction and Operating License Applications (COLAs).  Now, 10 years later, the NRC has only approved one design certifications and two COLAs.  The NRC’s workload did not increase the way that it was expected, but the Commission still increased its staff by almost 30%.

NuclearRegComLogoThis is very concerning to me because over the past few years the Commission has been developing sweeping new regulations that impose draconian costs on the industry without producing sufficient benefits.  It is as if the NRC, with its new building and all of its new people, have been using all of their spare time to come up with new things the nuclear industry must do to maintain compliance with the law.

NRC has done this most clearly in its reaction to the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.  While it is completely reasonable for us to review what went wrong in Japan and make sure we are not vulnerable to the same types of problems, it’s completely unreasonable for the NRC to use the disaster as justification to impose, in some cases, expensive and costly new regulations on the industry without any significant risk reduction.  I question whether the NRC is still employing its own “Principles of Good Regulations.”

Just a few months after Fukushima, the NRC Near-Term Task Force released its paper showing that there is a minimal chance that the disaster in Fukushima would be replicated here in the States.  Not only are the US nuclear plant designs more robust than Japan’s, but our significant cultural differences – both within the plants and between the plants and the NRC – make it much less likely that we’ll face the same problem.

NuclearPlant1Despite this, the NRC has continued to push new regulations in response to the Fukushima disaster, presuming that planning more and more contingencies and implementing more and more redundancies is the right path to take, even when the cumulative cost of these actions can exceed a hundred million dollars per plant.

Everyone here wants to ensure that a disaster like the one in Fukushima does not happen in the United States, and that really comes down to keeping the reactor cool in the event that both offsite and onsite power is lost.

In the US, our plants are designed to protect against all external hazards with an occurrence rate of one in a million years; unlike the plant at Fukushima, our onsite emergency diesel generators and fuel packs are located safely above ground from floods, and we have external pumps ready to operate like a fire department in the event the first and second redundancies fail.  The United States nuclear fleet is safe and it is well prepared to face any unforeseen events.

NuclearPlantThe NRC has also continued to press the nuclear fleet to prepare for terrorist attacks and other security threats.  In the wake of 9/11, the NRC has required the fleet to implement many new security features, and they work quite well.  But we’re getting close to crossing the inflection point where additional requirements, redundancies, and policies are simply adding to the cost of running these facilities without providing any additional benefits.

When you add in the efforts of the EPA to impose further and costly regulations on the water being used to cool reactors, claiming the new rule’s cost is justified because of all the fish it will keep from getting entrained and impinged, it’s as if the government – at EPA and NRC – is trying to regulate the nuclear energy industry out of business, just like it’s trying to do with every other business.

Today there are more than 50 rules, generic communications; including notices, advisories, and other regulatory actions on tap at the NRC, which is more than I can remember since serving on this committee – many without any clear linkages to safety enhancement.  Some a relatively small, and some – like EPA’s 316(b) rule or the post Fukushima required change to the Spent Fuel pool level instruments, are outrageously expensive.  But when you look at them all together – when you take the cumulative impact of all of them – even many of the small ones become unjustifiable.  In the grand scheme of things, they just do not add much value to our already rock-solid nuclear fleet.

For the industry that is providing 20% of our nation’s electricity, we need to be careful not to overreact to world events by imposing unjustifiably expensive regulations onto this industry based on the assumption that more regulations will yield more safety and security.

I thank you again for coming to testify here today.  I look forward to the Q&A.

Video of Senator Inhofe’s presentation to the committee follows: