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Summary of Hearings on Nuclear Energy and Waste Disposal Policy

( 7/30/12 )

  • July 24, 2012: House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy and Subcommittee on Energy and Power Joint Hearing on Nuclear Regulatory Commission Policy and Governance Oversight
  • June 13, 2012: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on the Nomination of Allison Macfarlane and re-nomination of Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • June 7, 2012: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing on “Recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future for a Consent-Based Approach to Siting Nuclear Waste Storage and Management Facilities”
  • March 15, 2012: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Joint Hearing on “Lessons from Fukushima One Year Later: NRC’s Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century”
  • February 2, 2012: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing “To receive testimony on the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future”
  • December 14, 2011: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on “The Leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission”
  • August 2, 2011: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing on “Review of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century”
  • February 1, 2011: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
    Hearing on the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2011 (S. 99)

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House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommitteee on Environment and the Economy and Subcommittee on Energy and Power Joint Hearing on Nuclear Regulatory Commission Policy and Governance Oversight
July 24, 2012

Witnesses:
Allison Macfarlane
Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Kristine Svinicki
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
William Magwood
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
William Ostendorff
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Members Present:
John Shimkus (R-IL), Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chair
Gene Green (D-TX), Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member
Edward Whitfield (R-KY), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair
Bobby Rush (D-IL), Energy and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member
Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Commerce Full Committee Chair
Henry Waxman (D-CA), Energy and Commerce Full Committee Ranking Member
Bob Latta (R-OH)
John Barrow (D-GA)
Lois Capps (D-CA)
Lee Terry (R-NE)
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Doris Matsui (D-CA)
Joe Barton (R-TX)
Tim Murphy (R-PA)
Kathy Castor (D-FL)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)
John Dingell (D-MI)
Joe Pitts (R-PA)
Greg Walden (R-OR)
Charles Bass (R-NH)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Edward Markey (D-MA)
Diana DeGette (D-CO)
Eliot Engel (D-NY)
David McKinley (R-WV)
Michael Burgess (R-TX)
Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
Greg Walden (R-OR)
Cory Gardner (R-CO)

On July 24, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy and Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a joint oversight hearing evaluating Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) policy and governance. Four of the five commissioners of the NRC testified before the committees. This was the first congressional hearing with recently appointed NRC chairman, Allison Macfarlane, who was confirmed on July 9 to replace former chairman Gregory Jaczko. Jaczko resigned from his position amid accusations of mismanagement from members on the commission and employees. Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, William Magwood, and William Ostendorff testified as well.

Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy Chair John Shimkus (R-IL) gave his opening statement recounting the events of the NRC since the commissioners last testified before the committee. Among these were licensing for two new nuclear plants which has not occurred in 34 years, issuing of orders for “post-Fukushima improvements,” and the change of leadership to Macfarlane which Shimkus said was “long overdue.” Shimkus noted the importance of identifying weaknesses in the NRC governance through oversight and to evaluation of policy changes. Shimkus stressed his concern of post-Fukushima regulatory changes on nuclear plants throughout the United States.

Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX) gave his opening statement focusing on the storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the full committee, gave his opening statement highlighting the mission of the NRC, which is to regulate the nation’s nuclear materials to protect health, safety, and the environment, and promote defense and security. Waxman said the commission had been “distracted” from their mission the past year and a half by policy makers who “second-guessed its decisions and sowed internal dissension.”

Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chair Edward Whitfield (R-KY) gave his opening statement referencing Japanese Kokkai ’s (National Assembly) Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission reports on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The Kokkai of Japan is the country’s bicameral legislature. Whitfield said that the report found that if the NRC’s “B.5.b” order were in place, that “the accident may have been preventable.” He noted that the NRC’s Task Force said that any Fukushima accident was “unlikely to occur in the United States.” He closed by mentioning the lack of cost-benefit analysis in orders released from the NRC in early March and said he expected future orders to include these. Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) gave his opening remarks discussing the Palisades nuclear plant “degraded performance.” He closed by talking about the NRC Inspector General report highlighting former Chairman Jaczko’s wrong-doings. Upton said he was “relieved that the Jaczko era is behind us.” Subcommittee on Energy and Power Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) rounded out the opening statements by reiterating the importance of safety in nuclear power. He discussed the NRC’s involvement in Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) engineering programs as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Allison Macfarlane began the witness testimonies by discussing her approach of governing the commission as chairman. She stated that she has begun reaching out to the other commissioners and looks to keeping “open lines of communication.” She further discussed the three tiers of action that were recommendations of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force report, “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century.” The first tier was approved in March. Tiers two and three are currently in development. Macfarlane said that this was a “substantial amount of progress in a short amount of time.” She closed by noting the progress of the year, including the licensing of the Vogtle Site in Georgia and the Summer Site in South Carolina.

Commissioner Kristine Svinicki gave her brief testimony beginning by acknowledging Macfarlane’s fostering of a collegial relationship with the commissioners even before she was sworn in. Svinicki said Macfarlane’s attitude is a “most welcomed opportunity to move forward in a positive manner.” She closed by discussing the orders issued March to enhance the safety of nuclear power plants.

Commissioner William Magwood began his testimony by revisiting events handled by the NRC in the past year. This included, in addition to those mentioned earlier by Macfarlane, the licensing of the first uranium enrichment facilities not constructed by the government. He closed by saying that Macfarlane was off to an “excellent start” as chairman of the NRC.

Commissioner William Ostendorff stated in his testimony that the NRC Task Force said there was “no imminent risk from continued operation of U.S. nuclear power plants.” He said that Macfarlane is “off to a very strong start as chairman.”

Shimkus began the questions by talking about the Honeywell’s Uranium Conversion Plant, which was deemed safe by the NRC in May. Two months later, it was shut down due to seismic issues. Shimkus asked if the NRC was initially correct on its assessments in May. Svinicki said additional studies were requested after the Fukushima events. She said the amount of material that could be released in a seismic event was more than estimated.

Green continued by asking when the risk evaluation of on-site storage pools would be started. Macfarlane said they are “considering various options.” She could not go further into detail because it is an “adjudicatory matter.” He then asked about the possible influence of international reports of the Fukushima disaster on commission decisions. Svinicki said the NRC is aware of these reports and they have helped with the U.S. response to Fukushima. Green asked about the differences between the regulatory requirements of Japan and the United States. Magwood said there are “significant differences.” In the U.S., each plant must have an emergency exercise on a regular basis, which does not exist in Japan.

Whitfield revisited the requirement of cost-benefit analysis, asking if it would be beneficial to include this in future actions. Macfarlane said each action would have to be considered individually. Svinicki said that after the highest orders have been issued, it is her “personal view” to return to cost-benefit analysis. Magwood said he agreed with Macfarlane.

Rush asked to hear more about the programs at the NRC which support the HBCUs engineering program and STEM education. Macfarlane said in fiscal year (FY) 2011, the minority servicing institutions grant program awarded 26 grants. Fifteen of these awards went to HBCUs. Upton continued questions by discussing Palisades plant “column three” status in the Reactor Oversight Program and asked what the protocol for those types of plants are. Ostendorff said column one is the best plant while column five is the “worst operating plant.”

Representative John Dingell (D-MI) focused his questions on the speediness of NRC reviews. In 2007-2008, the goal of review completions was 36 months. The time has now increased to 42 to 48 months, with some pushing 60 months. Macfarlane said the NRC is committed to completing reviews as “efficiently as possible.” Dingell asked how long until a finalization on a “single waste storage site.” Macfarlane said that it is “totally uncertain.” He then asked how many authorized single storage sites were available, to which Macfarlane said “one.” Dingell closed by discussing the Integrated University Program (IUP) and the lack of funding in the President’s FY 2013 budget request for it. The IUP develops a trained nuclear energy workforce through scholarships and fellowships.

Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) asked Macfarlane to discuss her management style. She said she considers the commissioners as “peer equals.” She further said, “[…] we will not agree on every issue, but that is not the intention of the commission.”

Waxman expressed his concerns on Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Nuclear plants in California and why NRC reviews did not identify flaws. Svinicki referenced the augmented inspection team report, which identified 10 unresolved items. Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) asked about the need for a reform in the “declaration of an emergency.” Ostendorff noted the “lack of clarity” when it came to emergency issues during Jaczko’s leadership.

Representative John Barrow (D-GA) asked about the status of construction on the two new nuclear plants. Ostendorff said “things are moving along well” and said communication is great. Magwood mentioned how it has been a great “educational process.”

Representative Robert Latta (R-OH) revisited the renewal application timeline and asked what is being done to assist promptness. Macfarlane noted how these issues take time, “especially when they are contested.” Svinicki noted periods of when the commission only had three members and it only “functions best” when it has a full commission of five. Magwood said that regulators should not have to “apologize” for taking more time to ensure safety.

Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) discussed the spent fuel pools of the Fukushima disaster and asked what the safety concerns of “densely packed spent fuel pools” are. Macfarlane answered this issue was a Tier 3 activity that the NRC will look at. Capps presented the alternative method of dry-cask storage and asked about their performance in Japan during the Fukushima disaster. Macfarlane said the dry casks withstood the earthquake and tsunami “very well.”

Representative David McKinley (R-WV) brought up the Yucca Mountain site, an area in Nevada designated to be the nation’s only deep geological nuclear and radioactive waste repository. McKinley wanted to know how much money has been spent on the Yucca project. Macfarlane said the amount spent on “Yucca Mountain itself and not on the entire waste disposal program” was around $7 to $8 billion. McKinley asked which of the two options, a geological repository or recycling, would be the direction the U.S. would choose for nuclear fuel rods. Macfarlane said that there is a need for a final repository, regardless of which option.

Representative Cory Gardner (R-CO) aimed his questions on the role of the Office of Public Affairs. He asked if Macfarlane thought the Public Affairs Office duties was to “devise press strategies to influence commissioners’ votes.” Macfarlane said the Office of Public Affairs is to assist the chairman and thus works at the “direction of the chairman.” She then re-enforced that “now there is a new chairman” and said she does not intend to use the Office of Public Affairs to sway other commissioners.

Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) focused his questions on decommissioning costs and how several older plants do not have enough money saved for dismantling. He asked Macfarlane what would happen if one of the underfunded reactors needed to be decommissioned. Macfarlane replied saying that several successful decommissions have occurred, but if Engel’s scenario were to occur, the NRC would have to visit the site.

Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) asked if any initial thoughts after Fukushima have been changed by newly available data. Magwood said that Japan had “much more to learn from Fukushima” than the U.S. did. In the time since the disaster, the NRC has progressed in taking appropriate steps to ensure nuclear safety. Scalise asked the panel for some top safety changes that have occurred since Fukushima, which Magwood noted the plants need to be able to respond to “beyond design basis events.”

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) talked about the NRC’s Near Term Task Force report released last year with 12 recommendations to ensure safety. The NRC has not voted to accept these recommendations and he asked Macfarlane if she supports the results of the “NRC’s top safety experts.” Macfarlane said she is committed to protecting the health and safety of the citizens and “shepherding” through the Fukushima recommendations. He closed by saying Macfarlane’s duty at the NRC is not to win a “popularity contest” with the other commissioners.

Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) continued discussion on the NRC’s Near Term Task Force report, asking for the other commissioners’ opinions. Svinicki noted that she voted to take the recommendations and open them to public comment before moving forward. Magwood said that individual commissioners did “make additions, not subtractions” to what the Task Force recommended. Ostendorff discussed his inclusion of a “station blackout rule,” which accounts for loss of all AC power used to keep cores cool. It helps prepare to mitigate issues when there is a loss of power.

Shimkus was yielded time to ask more questions by Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA). Shimkus took the opportunity to ask Macfarlane on her views of Yucca Mountain, as she has demonstrated “public criticism at Yucca Mountain.” Macfarlane said she would examine and take appropriate action on topics presented as chairman. Shimkus closed by giving the other commissioners time to give an example of when a vote has been “misconstrued” of supporting the protection of public safety. Svinicki noted the task force recommendations and how the handling of the report has been portrayed. Magwood agreed with Svinicki. Ostendorff closed by saying that the media does not often credit the NRC for including recommendations made by the NRC staff.

Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) questioned Macfarlane once more on her opinions of Yucca Mountain, noting how she has shown her disinterest in the project. Macfarlane clarified that she has never said she did not favor Yucca, using a supporting quote from her book Uncertainty Underground. He then asked for opinions on the “notation voting process” at the NRC. Macfarlane said the notation voting process has “the potential to operate fine.” Svinicki said she supports the method, as it benefitted her with the “rich written record” from prior commissioners. Magwood pointed out the notation process allows for commissioners to do research before voting and works “extremely well.” Ostendorff said it is a great way to learn and explain viewpoints. Murphy closed by quoting Macfarlane’s answer to a question posed in a 2009 MIT Technology Review interview which asked if “Yucca is really unsuitable.” Macfarlane’s answer was yes. Macfarlane responded to Murphy’s statement saying she has not read all the NRC documents on Yucca Mountain and with new details arising over time she said she intends to “keep an open mind.”

Witness testimonies, opening statements, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.

-KNR

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on the Nomination of Allison Macfarlane and re-nomination of Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
June 13, 2012

Witnesses:
Allison Macfarlane
Associate Professor, George Mason University
Kristine Svinicki
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Committee Members Present:
Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair
James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Thomas Carper (D-DE)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

On June 13, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to discuss the nomination of Allison Macfarlane to be chairman and re-nomination of Kristine Svinicki to be a commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Macfarlane, an assistant professor at George Mason University, has been nominated by President Obama to fill the seat of current chairman Gregory Jaczko. Jaczko will resign as chairman of the NRC upon confirmation of his successor. He announced his intent to resign in late May amid several accusations of mismanagement from other members on the commission and employees. Kristine Svinicki, a commissioner on the NRC board since 2008, has been renominated to serve another five year term. Her current term expires on June 30, 2012.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced Macfarlane mentioning how she is “supremely well qualified” and a “remarkable scholar and leader.” He highlighted Macfarlane’s service on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC), a 15 member board established by the President to review policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and recommend a new plan.  The final report was released in January 2012. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) introduced Kristine Svinicki by quoting former Senator John Warner (R-VA) from her first confirmation hearing in 2007. Warner said Svinicki, who worked on the Senate Committee on Armed Services when Warner was chairman, was “one of the extraordinary persons” that he worked with. Sessions closed by saying Svinicki has a “strong commitment” to NRC regulations, noting her visits to half of the nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) gave her opening statement highlighting the NRC mission of “ensuring safety at the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors.” She noted the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear meltdown disaster as a “wake up call.” She mentioned how without Jaczko’s leadership, “we would be even further behind on safety than we are.” Boxer said she was “impressed” by Macfarlane and said that Svinicki “has not demonstrated the commitment to safety that the American people have a right to expect.” Boxer read letters opposing Svinicki’s re-nomination, including one letter written by 94 organizations. She closed by saying “the burden on the NRC should be taken seriously by every commissioner.”

Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) gave his opening statement in support of Svinicki, calling her qualifications “stellar.” He did show concern over Macfarlane’s lack of experience in management. Inhofe mentioned Jaczko’s resignation saying he is “glad it happened.” Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) began his statement saying he is pleased with both nominations. He said Svinicki was “knowledgeable, hardworking, and committed to safety” and that Macfarlane’s experience “could bring a valuable and unique perspective to the commission on policy issues.” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) began his opening statement by saying he is “impressed” by the nominees. He noted Macfarlane’s “distinguished background,” saying he is still getting to know her. Alexander said he hopes the committee and the Senate can make a “prompt decision.”

Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) began his opening statement by disagreeing with Inhofe’s statement on Jaczko’s “failed leadership.” Sanders said he thought Jaczko did a good job and was “uspet about the level of personal attacks” against him from the committee and from the NRC. He said the attacks were a “smoke screen” for a “philosophical divide” in the NRC. He then continued his statement by listing concerns about Svinicki. He referenced her voting record on how she was one of the members who voted in private that recommended to the Department of Justice that it involve itself in litigation with the state of Vermont. He said “the role of the NRC is not to represent Entergy or any other nuclear power company against Vermont’s or against any other state.” Sanders said Svinicki’s vote was “wrong on the merits.” He closed by mentioning Svinicki’s opposition to public meetings for NRC votes. Sanders said that if the NRC does not reform their voting process, he will introduce legislation that would mandate a public vote process.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) opened his statement discussing Svinicki’s voting record. He mentioned how in the past four years, she has voted with the majority 90 percent of the time. Sessions discussed the comments on Svinicki’s failure to note her work on Yucca Mountain at her previous nomination hearing. He said her technical paper that “opponents claim she was hiding from the Senate” was the first listed article in her Senate questionnaire from 2007. He continued by noting Svinicki receiving of the 2012 Presidential Citation award by the American Nuclear Society. Sessions closed by acknowledging Macfarlane’s lack of leadership over a large group of employees and how her background “is not the kind of background I would normally look for in a chairman of the NRC.”

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) began his statement by emphasizing how the U.S. “must have an effective policy” for spent nuclear fuel. If both nominees are confirmed, he expects both to abide by safety. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) re-iterated the recent events of the NRC and said it has hurt the committee’s “image.” He said that Svinicki is “eminently qualified.” He addressed concerns with Macfarlane, stating the need to compare commissioner qualifications and her qualifications as well as understanding her views on uranium production, nuclear power plant permitting, and storage of nuclear waste.

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) agreed with committee members on the importance of safety. He mentioned the importance of moving forward with nuclear energy, including the disposal of spent fuels. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) gave a brief statement mentioning how “the buck really stops with the NRC when it comes to safety.”

Macfarlane mentioned the commissioners of the NRC in her testimony and said she looked forward to “forging a collegial relationship with them.” She stated the mission of the NRC to be “protecting the safety of the American people and the environment.” She said her background as a geology and public policy scholar prepares her for the missions of the NRC. Macfarlane holds a doctorate in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and if confirmed, she would be the first geologist to head the commission. Closing her statement, Macfarlane made a commitment to “devote all my energies to serving on the NRC.” She discussed her approach to more “openness, efficiency, and transparency” within the commission. Macfarlane spoke of her intentions to keep the NRC “a top-ranked workplace for its employees.”

Svinicki began her testimony by saying she would be “privileged to continue this work.” She reflected on her last hearing in March, and discussed the orders NRC had just released to nuclear power plants. These orders set requirements on “features to mitigate beyond design basis extreme natural events, installation of hardened venting systems, and enhanced instrumentation for spent fuel pools.” She mentioned the NRC requirement of seismic and flooding hazards evaluation at nuclear sites, post- Fukushima.

Boxer began the questions by asking Svinicki about the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant in California. Boxer wrote a letter to NRC asking for a review and asked if Svinicki thought there should have been a license amendment. Svinicki said she is looking forward to results from the augmented inspection team. The NRC set a goal for implementation of recommendations of the Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Accident report, within five years. Boxer pointed out that recent orders give a longer amount of time for compliance by nuclear power plants. She asked Svinicki if she would ensure the safety recommendations are implemented within the five year time frame. Svinicki said she would, acknowledging there might be some implementation issues “beyond my control.”

Inhofe asked Svinicki how she would prioritize the changes that happened after nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ici nuclear plant compared to before. Svinicki mentioned three emergency orders issued by the NRC, which she listed in her testimony. Inhofe referenced the NRC’s Reorganization Plan of 1980 which described duties of the chairman, including informing the commission. Macfarlane ensured that the “other commissioners are fully informed.”

Carper asked Macfarlane how to find a suitable place for nuclear disposal waste. Macfarlane referenced her experience on the BRC and suggested compensation to communities that might want to host a repository or storage facility. She said the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) is a great example. Carper asked for Macfarlane’s approach to leadership. She said the NRC already has an “exceptional structure in place” and as chairman it is necessary to behave in a “collegial manner.”

Alexander asked Macfarlane if she agrees with the commission’s suggestion on disposal of nuclear fuel by identifying consolidation sites and beginning to find a repository. Macfarlane said speaking from the BRC point of view, she “wholeheartedly” agrees. Alexander then discussed small nuclear reactors and asked Macfarlane if she were chairman, would she “assign priority” to the commission’s role in moving forward with small modular nuclear reactors. Macfarlane said she would like to learn more about the reactors, but supports the idea. Svinicki said she has supported activities for the development of small modular reactors. Alexander closed by asking for Macfarlane’s views on nuclear being part of reliable and clean power. She said 20 percent of U.S. electricity is from nuclear and it is important for a “diverse energy supply.”

Sanders re-visited the voting practices of the NRC. He asked Macfarlane for her commitment to hold a “public voting meeting.” She committed to “being as transparent as possible.” Svinicki said “her votes are made public” and said she has supported the “written notation voting process.”

Sessions asked Macfarlane for her experience in regards to reactor safety. Macfarlane said her expertise is in the “back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.” He asked her whether she had received funding from federal agencies or opposition groups on Yucca Mountain, to which Macfarlane said she has not received any. He then asked if the NRC and the Department of Energy should “preserve” the work already done on Yucca Mountain. Macfarlane said, speaking “as a scientist, absolutely.”

Cardin asked for Macfarlane’s thoughts on onsite storage. Macfarlane said working on the safety and security of spent fuel pools and dry casks. She said “we need to move forward on national repositories.”

Barrasso asked if domestic uranium production is preferred instead of being imported. Macfarlane referenced again the importance of a “diverse supply of energy.”

Lautenberg asked Macfarlane if she would support the requirement of filtered containment vents. She said the NRC is looking into the topic. He then asked Svinicki why she did not support the installment of these vents. Svinicki she said she did not receive any analysis, but when the NRC releases an evaluation, she will “review with an open mind.” Lautenberg asked Macfarlane if she would try bringing the public into discussions, noting the lack of openness in the NRC. She said she was “dedicated to hearing all sides.” He closed by asking about the transportation of nuclear waste, to which Macfarlane said waste could be transported safely.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) asked about the Indian Point Energy Center in New York and if the NRC plans to look at fault lines. Macfarlane mentioned a new seismic hazard analysis being issued by the U.S. Geological Survey. Svinicki said that all nuclear power plants have been required to do seismic evaluation, post-Fukushima.

Boxer concluded the hearing by saying she hopes “that this commission (…) can get off in a different direction.” Boxer said that even though she plans to vote against Svinicki, she predicted she would still be confirmed and that she hopes Svinicki will help Macfarlane.

Witness testimonies, opening statements, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee web site.

-KNR


Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing on "Recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future for a Consent-Based Approach to Siting Nuclear Waste Storage and Management Facilities"
June 7, 2012

Witnesses:
Panel I
Brent Scowcroft
Lieutenant General, President, The Scowcroft Group
Per Peterson
Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley

Panel II
Geoffrey Fettus
Senior Project Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council
David Wright
President, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
Eric Howes
Director of Government and Public Affairs, Maine Yankee
Daniel Metlay
Senior Professional Staff, U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
Andrew Orrell
Director of Nuclear Energy & Fuel Cycle Programs, Sandia National Laboratories

Committee Members Present:
Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chair
John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Tom Udall (D-NM)

On June 7, 2012, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a hearing to evaluate the recommendations presented by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) for a consent-based approach in siting nuclear waste disposal facilities. President Obama and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu established the BRC in January 2010 to review the policy options for promoting reactor and fuel cycle technology, evaluating transportation and storage opportunities, and adopting appropriate disposal plans. The BRC report incorporates three crucial elements: a consent‐based approach to siting future nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities, the establishment of an independent nuclear waste management program, and changing the manner in which fees paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund are treated in the federal budget.

Chairman Thomas Carper (D-DE) began the hearing by stating the importance of the nuclear power industry for the United States’ energy future. Carper noted that there are currently 104 operating nuclear reactors producing about 20 percent of the nation’s “clean and reliable” power, without harmful emissions from sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, mercury, or carbon dioxide. The technology of dry caste storage of nuclear waste will be reliable for the next 150-200 years, however this storage will “not last forever,” said Carper. After more than 25 years since the establishment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982 (P.L. 97-425), no waste disposal site has been put in place. “We need to find the ultimate resting place” for spent nuclear fuel, Carper said. He stated that consent-based siting, with meaningful partnerships and open communication between federal, state, local, and tribal leaders, is the most important step toward establishing a geologic nuclear waste repository.

In his opening statement, ranking member John Barrasso (R-WY) outlined costs associated with siting a nuclear waste depository. Barrasso stated that after the Department of Energy (DOE) determined Yucca Mountain as the best possible waste disposal site, $15 billion has been spent on the project. $19 billion is the estimated taxpayer liability paid out of waste funds to the utilities because of the unmoved nuclear waste and $30 billion is the total amount owed to utilities in the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund paid by ratepayers that must eventually be paid back with taxpayer dollars. Finally, there are unknown costs associated with creating another federal agency to manage nuclear waste as recommended by the BRC. Barrasso questioned how the nation can assure that the BRC recommendations are a “bridge to a long-term solution” as opposed to “a bridge back to square one?” He concluded that nuclear power is essential to securing America’s energy future and that the nation can look to the success of other countries for guidance on how to move forward with waste disposal sites. 

In his opening statement, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) emphasized that nuclear waste discussions will not be successful unless there is consent among all involved parties. He commented on the progress that is being made in Congress exemplified by the provision in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (S. 2465) for establishment of consolidated waste sites, and through the efforts of Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and others to develop a new comprehensive bill incorporating the BRC recommendations. In conclusion, Alexander stated that regardless of opinions on Yucca Mountain as a geologic waste repository, discussions for a second repository site are necessary. 

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) stated that nuclear waste policy has “a poor history in Congress.” He encouraged colleagues to connect with groups such as Sandia National Laboratories and to evaluate the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico as an example of consent based siting efforts.

In his testimony, BRC commission member Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft emphasized the significance of reaching a unanimous conclusion for the BRC recommendations given the diverse perspectives of the contributing members. Although the decision made by the Administration to halt work at Yucca Mountain is the most recent indicator of a “troubled policy” and “unmet commitments” to the American people, Scowcroft said the BRC is “confident we can turn this around.” Scowcroft stated that the current approach to radioactive material disposal has weakened state and public confidence in federal regulations, been very costly, and undermined the international standing of the U.S. as a leader in nuclear safety, expertise, and non-proliferation. With a 65,000 metric ton inventory of spent nuclear fuels, growing at a rate of 2,000 metric tones per year, and a statutory limit on Yucca Mountain at 70,000 metric tons, Scowcroft stressed that complacency to the current trajectory of nuclear management is “not an option.” He followed by outlining the first four key elements of the BRC recommendations to ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of international nuclear developments. The first suggestion is to reject top-down efforts and use a consent-based approach for determining a nuclear waste repository, which has proven successful for the WIPP, as well as for Spain, Finland, and Sweden. Secondly, the BRC recommends an establishment of a separate institution dedicated solely to implementing a nuclear waste management program. The institution should be empowered with the authority, leadership, and financial resources needed to succeed. The third recommendation of the BRC is to reauthorize access to funds from the nuclear facility rates. Scowcroft explained that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendment of 1982 (42 U.S.C. § 10131) required nuclear power facilities to pay a fee for every kilowatt-hour of nuclear power generated that enters a waste disposal fund. Due to legislation, about $750 million of these funds are now inaccessible. The final recommendation Scowcroft described calls for prompt action to evaluate one or more deep-geologic disposal sites as the “scientifically preferred approach” for nuclear waste storage.

Per Petersen, Chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at University of California-Berkeley and BRC commission member, described the remaining BRC suggestions in his testimony. He recommended that federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop a set of ‘generic’ safety standards that can be applied to all future nuclear waste sites. The sixth recommendation concerns preparations for transport of nuclear wastes to consolidated waste facilities. Petersen said the BRC recommends the government support research and development into nuclear waste transportation options, involve state, local, and tribal authorities in dialogues concerning transport, and prioritize transport of stranded fuels from decommissioned nuclear plants. Petersen stated that the seventh BRC submission is that the government makes investments into advancing nuclear energy and light water reactor technologies because improved technologies will promote environmental sustainability and energy security. The final recommendation calls for the U.S. to adopt an international leadership role in nuclear safety, non-proliferation, security and counter-terrorism concerns. Petersen commented that the U.S. should “lead by engagement and example” by having domestic policies to support an international nuclear agenda.

Chairman Carper began the first question and answer period by asking what qualities should or should not be exploited from the experiences of New Mexico with the WIPP. Petersen responded that the federal government gave the state leadership over the program, which was essential in giving state authorities and the general public confidence that the facility could be operated safely. He said WIPP was successful because it funded an Environmental Evaluation Group with roots in university systems, allowing for independent sources of scientific advice. WIPP had a licensed safety standard established before the repository was selected. Finally, WIPP had assured funding. Petersen concluded that it is critical for the government to reclassify facility fee receipts in order to offset possible losses in appropriations and prevent competition between nuclear waste facilities and other discretionary spending priorities.

Senator Udall asked the panel if a state should be granted the authority to accept or reject a nuclear waste site within their own borders. Scowcroft compared Yucca Mountain to the WIPP in New Mexico and said the difference is that New Mexico had a consent-based approach. He said to be successful the federal, state, and local communities must work together. Petersen added that state authority is currently “the major issue” and states must have the power to be able to modify or opt-out of a nuclear waste facility if they foresee any safety problems.

Alexander asked the panel to clarify the definition of “consent-based” and describe the use of incentives to encourage states to participate in the nuclear waste site discussions. Scowcroft said the research laboratories, facilities, and jobs associated with a nuclear waste disposal site must be made attractive to local communities. In countries such as Sweden, communities are bidding against each other to host nuclear waste facilities rather than rejecting sites. Senator Alexander than questioned the BRC recommendation for nuclear waste consolidation sites. Petersen responded that the federal government should move forward with consolidated storage in parallel with geologic repository sites. Snowcroft added that after evaluating the time, cost, and transportation factors, the BRC concluded that there should be precautionary steps toward identifying consolidated storage possibilities because all the costs would be outweighed by the benefits.

Ranking Member Barrasso asked the two BRC members to describe the key common elements that made nuclear waste projects in Spain, Finland, and Sweden successful. Snowcroft commented that the prospects for a nuclear waste site were attractive and viewed as “an opportunity for the community” rather than a “penalty” forced upon them. Senator Carper concluded the first panel discussion and remarked that a nuclear waste repository could provide jobs, generate tax revenues, and be environmentally sound, and should not be regarded as a “dump.”

Geoffrey Fettus of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) began the second panel with a discussion on the NRDC opinions of the BRC recommendations. Fettus said the NRDC supported efforts to develop generic site screening and management standards before sites are considered. Additionally, Fettus commended BRC recommendations to create generic environmental and health standards and suggested the lack of such standards caused the loss of public support for the Yucca Mountain repository. He testified that the EPA should have regulatory authority over clean up standards at nuclear waste facilities and the state should obtain regulatory oversight, within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s jurisdiction, as has been done with WIPP. Fettus stated that the BRC was “too tentative” in addressing clean up standards and suggested that Congress amend the Atomic Energy Act (42 U.S.C. §2011 et seq.), which exempts radioactive materials from environmental laws and makes nuclear waste “a privilege pollutant.” Fettus concluded that future generations “will face our current predicament” unless Congress can implement an environmental and public health safety policy “that cannot be manipulated.”

David Wright, President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), began his testimony by quoting a colleague in Florida who said, “The government has our money, we have their waste.” He continued to outline the points NARUC supported within the BRC recommendations, including reformation of the Nuclear Waste Fund, a consent-based site selection process, the establishment of a separate entity to carry out nuclear waste processes, continued transportation research, and the need for a flexible repository capable of adapting to any new information, technologies, and political developments. Wright said the points made by the BRC can be accomplished using the revenue streams “already dedicated for this purpose” and public education outreach programs to prevent acceptance of a “no-action alternative.”

Eric Howes, Director of Public and Government Affairs for Maine Yankee, a decommissioning plant coalition (DPC), endorsed the BRC recommendation to make transportation of nuclear waste from permanently shut down nuclear power plants to consolidated storage facilities a first priority. He suggested that Congress restore funding for regional transportation planning groups in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request. Howes emphasized the importance of developing interim storage facilities in addition to siting a long-term repository to reduce costs for tax payers, maximize security effectiveness, and encourage nuclear waste research efforts.

Daniel Metlay, representing the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, followed with a description of international experiences for storing and disposing of high-level nuclear wastes. He said that over the last 40 years only three efforts have succeeded, all of which relied on volunteerism, a consent-based process, and selection strategies that involved technical and non-technical considerations. In Sweden two municipalities have agreed to nuclear waste facilities, in France a community volunteered to host an underground nuclear repository research facility, and in the United Kingdom and Canada communities have initiated discussions about a national nuclear waste management programs. Metlay stated that internationally site selection approaches are characterized by their “diversity and variety.” The most receptive communities are the ones with nuclear power plants already in place and who are offered generous benefit packages. Metlay concluded that host communities must acquiesce to site investigation, implementers must engage hosts with a strong, long-term presence, and host communities must have a realistic way to withdraw from the siting process for the siting process to move forward. Metlay emphasized that “public trust in the institutions” and “confidence in the credibility” of the selection process is necessary to be successful.

In his testimony, Andrew Orrell of Sandia National Laboratories presented his “prerequisites” for a successful site selection process. He stated that the U.S. contains many geologic formations technically suitable for interim and long-term storage facilities, however the nation is faced with many social and political challenges. He emphasized that the “placement of trust and credibility” in the nuclear waste disposal process is an essential prerequisite. The uncertainty around who will serve as a federal representative in this process, the comingling of defense and commercial nuclear waste, and the lack of a comprehensive generic safety standard must be resolved before finalizing site selection. He concluded that the public must have complete confidence in the selected geologic repository and the entire disposal program in order to establish a successful consent-based process.

Senator Carper began the second panel questioning by asking Metlay to comment on the role of the former Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator, an independent establishment of the executive branch, in site selection processes. Metlay told Carper that the 1987 amendments to the NWPA required negotiations between the federal government and Native American tribes before chartering a repository or interim storage facility; however, Congress eliminated this requirement following unsuccessful and inefficient operation. Metlay stated that Offices of Negotiation have proven unsuccessful in other nations as well. Carper then asked the panel what Congress’ first actions should be to move forward with a consent-based site selection process. Fettus suggested Congress continue with hearings and avoid starting the site-selection process before environmental, health, and selection standards have been established. Wright responded that the federal court needs to clarify the purpose and allocation of the Nuclear Waste Fund fees and begin transportation preparations immediately. Metlay said countries that have been successful siting a nuclear waste facility have “solved the problem of power distribution” between the federal, state, and local governments. Orrell replied that Congress should start by renewing the disposal standards and regulations.

Senator Alexander asked the panel how aggressively the Department of Energy should move forward with identifying and transporting stranded fuels to consolidation sites. Wright said this would be advantageous because it proves nuclear waste can be transported and it reduces government exposure to liability cases. Fettus disagreed with this statement and said premature selection of a site would risk selection of a site that is ill-suited for nuclear waste disposal and that does not follow a consent-based process.

Senator Udall asked what necessary progress would be needed in the permanent site selection process before opening an interim site. Fettus replied that the nation must be much further in the process than at present. Orrell added that the consent and desires of the state “will decide the rate of progress.” Fettus agreed that the adopting a consent-based process “has to be first” in order to site an appropriate and non-controversial nuclear waste repository.

An archived webcast and full witness testimonies can be found on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works web site.

-NEH


Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Joint Hearing on "Lessons from Fukushima One Year Later: NRC's Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century"
March 15, 2012

Witnesses Present:
Gregory Jaczko
Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Kristine Svinicki
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
George Apostolakis
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
William Magwood
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
William Ostendorff
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Subcommittee Members Present:
Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chair
John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member
Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Full Committee Members Present:
Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair
James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

On March 15, 2012 the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a joint hearing to review the actions of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in implementing new safety recommendations one year after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.  Chairman of the NRC Gregory Jaczko along with the four NRC Commissioners were present to field questions from the Committee and Subcommittee members.  The hearing was held nearly one year to the day after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan triggering devastating tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  The nuclear crisis thrust the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants into the Congressional spotlight.  The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on April 13, 2011 to review the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster and the implications for the United States.  In response to the Japanese disaster, a Near-Term Task Force was created in March of 2011 to review U.S. nuclear power plant safety requirements.  In July 2011 the NRC released a report entitled “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor in the 21st Century” which delves into the findings of the task force.

Chair of the Full Committee Barbara Boxer (D-CA) began her opening statement by clarifying that the purpose of the hearing is to review the efforts of the NRC in guaranteeing that all 104 active nuclear power plants in the U.S. are running safely.    She went on to highlight some of the main recommendations found by the Near-Term Task Force.  These recommendations call for improved on site emergency preparedness safety equipment, enhancing monitoring equipment in spent fuel rod pools, improving ventilation systems of the 31 boiling water reactors (same type of nuclear reactor as Fukushima Daiichi), reassessments of earthquake and flooding susceptibility, and better preparation for periods of prolonged loss of power.  Boxer was concerned about the NRC’s prolonged timelines for these safety requirements.

In his opening statement Ranking Member of the Full Committee James Inhofe (R-OK) praised the NRC for licensing two new nuclear reactors in Georgia calling it a “milestone in the agency’s history.”  The licensing of these nuclear power plants was approved by a four to one vote of the NRC commissioners with the one vote against tallied by Jaczko.  Inhofe criticized Jaczko for his vote by saying, “There was no need for Chairman Jaczko to take his ‘my way or the highway’ approach here, lashing out at his colleagues and implying that they were ignoring the lessons of Fukushima.”  Inhofe accused Jaczko of preferring to shut down the nuclear power industry by gradually decommissioning nuclear reactors and not expanding the industry by licensing more nuclear reactors.  Inhofe left the duty of upholding the NRC’s reputation with the four other commissioners when he said, “It's up to you four to uphold the NRC's reputation for reasoned and balanced regulation.”

Chairman of the Subcommittee Thomas Carper (D-DE) opened by saying, “We cannot predict when or where the next major disaster will occur. We do know, however, that robust preparation and response planning are vital to minimize injury and death when it does happen.”  He said he is convinced that the U.S. can learn from the events of the Japanese nuclear disaster despite the NRC’s findings that a similar situation in the U.S. is unlikely.  Carper expressed his full support of the five NRC commissioners remarking that he did not believe there were five more qualified individuals in the country. 

In his opening statement, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee John Barrasso (R-WY) stated the importance of the NRC’s job of ensuring that nuclear safety is practiced safely in the United States.  He called for this NRC process to continue free of partisan politics.  He emphasized the importance of an American energy strategy that pushes forward with nuclear energy and provides “…affordable domestic energy for seniors for working families and for small business owners.” 

Jaczko opened his testimony by saying, “I stress that the commission continues to believe that there is no imminent risk from continued operation of nuclear power plants in the United States.”  However, he believes that there are lessons to be learned from the Fukushima disaster and the NRC has put forth regulations to address these lessons.  He stated that in December the NRC classified the recommendations from the task force into three tiers.  Tier one consists of actions that are to be taken without delay, tier two consists of actions that are to be taken once the resources and skill sets become available, and tier three consists of those recommendations that require further study.  He emphasized that these tiers are not necessarily in order of highest priority.  Upon further peer input the NRC has now made enhancements to the tier classifications effective immediately to all nuclear power plants in the United States.  These enhancements include the installation of water monitoring instruments in spent fuel rod pools and improved venting systems for boiling water reactors.  By 2013 each power plant must submit their plan for implementing these requirements.  He also said that each nuclear power plant is required to reassess their potential for seismic activity and flooding, and to assess their strategies for operation under prolonged portions of power outage. 

Boxer asked Jaczko for a timetable on when some of the task force recommendations will be enforced.  He responded that power outage and new emergency operation procedures will be enforced in 2014 and 2016 respectively.  Jaczko said he is concerned with the time table for the seismic and flood reassessment, which he said will not be complete until 2017.  NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis attempted to ease concern over the 2017 deadline by saying that the nuclear power plants most at risk to seismic activity and floods will be reassessed first. 

Inhofe asked the panel to address the differences in the geology and the nuclear safety regulatory system of Japan.  Apostolakis replied that the regulatory body in place in Japan, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), was very technically weak and the tsunami calculations were poorly done.  The tsunami evaluations were based off of out of date data and needed to be reevaluated. 

Barrasso mentioned a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report entitled “The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2011” that disagreed with the NRC findings.  The report acknowledged that the NRC has developed a plan to implement lessons learned from Fukushima but must pursue the implementation of these lessons more “expeditiously.”  NRC commissioner William Magwood told the committee he disagreed with the opinions of the UCS and said he does not believe that a Fukushima type event could occur in the United States.  Apostolakis disagreed with the UCS report because he does not think “what happened in Fukushima could happen here.”  NRC commissioner William Ostendorff echoed the views of his colleagues disagreeing with the UCS report. 

Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) said he disagreed with a previous statement by Magwood that the history of nuclear energy in the U.S. will be determined by economic factors.  He said he thought “the future of nuclear power will one hundred percent be determined by whether or not the taxpayers of this country continue to provide huge, huge, huge financial support for the nuclear power industry.”  The senator used the remainder of the time to question when the federal subsidies for nuclear energy will end.  He believes that new sustainable energy technologies should receive federal subsidies instead of the 60 year old nuclear power industry.  The panel recommended that the senator direct these questions to the Department of Energy because it is out of the scope of their duties at the NRC. 

Opening statements, witness testimony, and a web cast of the hearing can be found at the Environment and Public Works Committee web site.

-APR

Science Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing "To receive testimony on the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future”
February 2, 2012

Witnesses:
Lee Hamilton
Co-Chair, Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future
Brent Scowcroft
Co-Chair, Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future
Pete Domenici
Former Senator New Mexico

Members Present:
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Jim Risch (R-ID)
Mark Udall (D-CO)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Dean Heller (R-NV)

On February 2, 2012, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to receive testimony on the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.  The Blue Ribbon Commission was formed in 2010 as directed by the President’s Memorandum for the Secretary of Energy.  The goal of the Blue Ribbon Commission is “to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and recommend a new plan.”  The U.S. has been in a stand still for many decades over the handling of the disposal of nuclear waste.  In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA, 42 U.S.C. 10101), which set in motion a plan for nuclear waste disposal including identifying potential centralized waste sites.  In 1987, the NWPA was amended to declare Yucca Mountain, located in southern Nevada adjacent to the Nevada Test Site, the only site to be considered for further study and to begin storing waste there in 1997.  Ever since then Yucca Mountain has been surrounded by controversy and while still the repository by law, funding for completing the site has been terminated.  Currently, nuclear waste is accumulating in the U.S. at active nuclear reactors, extinct nuclear reactors, and at Department of Defense sites.  

In his opening statement Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) praised the work done by the Blue Ribbon Commission by saying, “They did their job openly and thoroughly, they stayed focused on the tasks that were assigned to them, and they produced a solid and eminently sensible report.”  Bingaman said that Congress must focus on the challenge of translating the Commission’s findings into legislation. 

In her opening statement Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stated that this nuclear waste issue has been frustrating Congress and the public far too long.  The issue of nuclear waste disposal has cost tax payers $2 billion yet no clear legislative solution has been agreed to.  She said if a solution is not found this project will cost U.S. taxpayers $13 billion by 2021.  Senator Murkowski told the committee that she believes the formation of the Blue Ribbon Commission put a hold on the passing of legislation to solve our nuclear waste disposal issues.  Looking forward, she said we must begin investigating additional disposal sites without forgetting the Yucca Mountain project. 

Lee Hamilton, Co-Chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission began his testimony by addressing the ineffectiveness of the NWPA.  He said public confidence in the federal government is deteriorating because of the inability of the government to fix the issue at hand.  The stagnancy of the project hurts the development of new technologies as well as our global image.    There is currently 65,000 metric tons of nuclear waste spread across the country and an additional 2,000 tons added annually.  The report recommends an adaptive consent based approach.  The communities near the proposed sites will have to allow consent for the building of the repository for the site to be considered.  This approach is designed to prevent another scenario like Yucca Mountain where community was not given an opportunity to comment.  Hamilton’s opinion is that the current system of taxing nuclear plants is a good approach, but it needs to be amended so the taxed money is set aside exclusively for developing a national repository.

In his testimony, Brent Scowcroft, Co-Chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission expressed the need for the identification of more geological repositories.  He believes recycling of waste is a secondary issue that should be pursued after a proposal on nuclear waste disposal is ratified.  Regardless of whether the Yucca Mountain project is reactivated or not, Scowcroft reminded the committee its capacity is still only 70,000 metric tons.  Thus, he said, another site will have to be developed.  The Blue Ribbon Commission evaluated transportation of nuclear waste to central repositories.  The Blue Ribbon Commission Report deems the current laws and regulations on nuclear waste transportation sufficient.  The current track record of transporting nuclear waste is excellent, but the idea of it scares the public.  Scowcroft recommended programs to educate the public and train emergency responders to deal with potential accidents. 

Former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici said there is already a law in place that requires utility companies to pay for the disposal of nuclear waste which adds up to a total of $750 million a year.  The issue is this money goes into the general treasury.  This money needs to be sequestered so that it goes exclusively to nuclear waste disposal development.  The funding for the development of nuclear waste repositories is sufficient, Domenici said, the process just needs to be amended. 

Chairman Bingaman opened the question and answer period by inquiring about the best way to ensure repository suitability while maintaining an adaptive consent based approach.  Hamilton responded that there is no “magic bullet.” There will have to be cooperation and compromise between the public and the government.  The government may need to offer incentives for communities willing to take on a repository, Hamilton advised.  Scowcroft assured that there must be protocol in place developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to standardize the evaluation of potential repository sites.  Bingaman inquired about the feasibility of temporary regional sites while national repository sites are established.  Hamilton and Scowcroft believe it is feasible but there will have to be significant communication between the two.  The transport of nuclear waste to the proposed site is expected to be a large point of contention among the public. 

Ranking Member Murkowski asked how the development of new recycling techniques would affect the planning of repositories.  Hamilton responded that the Blue Ribbon Commission was not designed to look into this, but he believes there would not be an issue.  He reiterated that recycling is not a final solution because there is still waste associated with it.  Murkowski asked for suggestions on how to convince both parties to aide in the passing of legislation for a solution to this national problem.  Domenici recommended that individuals involved with the legislation are trustworthy, transparent, and bipartisan.   Scowcroft said the reason the Blue Ribbon Commission advised a government agency and not a private industry to tackle this issue is they felt government would be less likely to allow the project to “run amuck.” 

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked how we get communities to volunteer and still get acceptable repository sites chosen by “good science.”  Hamilton emphasized that good science is a priority and the EPA will have to develop a sound evaluation process.  Wyden inquired about how many sites will be needed.  Scowcroft said at least two because if Yucca Mountain were put into action right now it would already be near capacity.  Domenici chimed in that defense waste is ready to be moved now because it is has already been vitrified.  Vitrification is the transforming of the waste into glass form where it will neither react nor decompose for an extended period of time.  

Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) stated his disappointment in the Blue Ribbon Commission Report.  He was hoping they would choose or at least evaluate sites.  He is frustrated with the lack of progress and asked “Where are we going here, where can we put it?”  Scowcroft responded that the U.S. is going in the right direction and the best bet is looking to international models.  Countries like Sweden, Spain, and Canada have used a consent based approach and have solved their nuclear waste issues.  Hamilton predicted the U.S. is still decades away from solving the problem with 15 to 20 years dedicated to choosing a proper site and five years dedicated to building the site.  Domenici told Risch that legislation needs to be passed and recommended Risch visit the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, because it is a perfect example of how a site should be run.  

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) repeated Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) findings that the Yucca Mountain repository displays faulty management, facilities, and science.  He voiced Nevada’s concern over why they must be shouldered with the load of nuclear waste even though they do not have nuclear reactors.  He supports the idea of a centralized repository but does not believe Yucca Mountain is structurally suitable.  Heller said he believes scientists should be making this decision not politicians in Washington.  He inquired if the Blue Ribbon Commission researched alternatives such as fission versus burying waste in the ground.  Scowcroft said it was not the Blue Ribbon Commissions job to investigate this but they do support research and development of nuclear technologies. 

A web cast of the hearing can be found on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources web site

-APR

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on “The Leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission”
December 14, 2011

Witnesses
Panel I
The Honorable Gregory B. Jaczko
Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable George E. Apostolakis
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable William C. Ostendorff
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable Kristine L. Svinicki
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable William D. Magwood, IV
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Panel II
Bill Borchardt
Executive Director for Operations, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Stephen Burns
General Counsel, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Committee Members Present
Darrell Issa, Chairman (R-CA)
Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member (D-MD)
Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
John Tierney (D-MA)
James Lankford (R-OK)
Gerald Connolly (D-VA)
Trey Gowdy (R-SC)
Danny Davis (D-IL)
Dennis Ross (R-FL)

On December 14, 2011, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to discuss the role of Gregory Jaczko as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). There have been growing concerns regarding Jaczko’s conduct at the NRC with his fellow staff and commission. An Inspector General report released in the summer concluded that the chairman had withheld varying amounts of information from specific members of the commission in order to influence their vote to shut down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. In mid-October of 2011, the NRC commission, composed of two Democrats and two Republicans, sent a letter to the White House expressing their “grave concerns” with Jaczko’s actions and management policies at the NRC. Bill Daley, White House chief of staff, submitted a letter on behalf of Jaczko with an apology and an explanation that the chairman acted in compliance with the law. The culpability of Jaczko is split between party lines, as some democrats believe that many disputes at the NRC have broken out due to the agency’s 1980 reorganization which instated the four-person commission led by a single chairman, a structure in which power distribution has been controversial in the past.

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) provided an opening statement, saying that he is “deeply concerned” with the commission’s current ability to work by consensus. He believed that all five commissioners, including Chairman Jaczko, are charged with the same responsibility. Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) called the commission’s disagreements “internal squabbling” that should not affect the great work of the NRC. In his opinion, the disputes should be worked out among the five commissioners, because he is unsure how much of them are due to personality conflicts.

During his testimony, Gregory Jaczko told the committee that 2011 has been an “exceptionally challenging and productive year,” which included many unforeseen disasters. He listed the milestones the NRC achieved for the year, including the report they distributed after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

The four NRC commissioners then provided their testimonies. Republican Commissioner Kristine Svinicki testified that an “unworkable” level of tension within the commission is impeding the “collegial” activities of the NRC. She spoke about some remarks Chairman Jaczko has made in the past that suggest his attempt to advance his own agenda, as well as “outbursts of rage” to which all the commissioners and some staffers have been subject. William Magwood, a Democratic Commissioner, stressed the commission’s commitment to safety, even when they don’t agree on decisions. He believed that the chairman has an “unhealthy” control over the information that is presented to the commission. After citing examples of verbal abuse by the chairman to female staff members at the NRC, he described the agency as having a “chilled work environment” that has become worse in recent months.

The other Republican Commissioner, William Ostendorff, told the committee that the highest level of the NRC does not reflect the mission of the whole agency because the chairman is impeding the agency’s ability to provide safety to the country. He referred to the letter the four commissioners sent to the White House, stating that the letter was not written with political incentives, contrary to recent accusations of such. George Apostolakis, the other Democratic Commissioner, spoke about the structure within the NRC that allows for a “diversity of insights.” He has serious concerns with the chairman’s leadership, and said the political accusations regarding their letter sent to the White House “could not be further from the truth.”

Chairman Issa asked Jaczko if he has even withheld information from the rest of the commission; Jaczko denied any such withholdings. Issa then asked if Jaczko has ever managed an organization of 4,000 people before, to which he responded has had not. Given Ostendorff’s many years of management experience in the military, Issa inquired about his opinion of Jaczko’s leadership. Ostendorff stated that he does not believe the commission has been kept abreast of the NRC staff’s complete knowledge, advice, and recommendations.

Cummings asked Jaczko to comment on the verbal abuse allegations from the NRC staff. Jaczko told the congressman it was the first time he had heard of any such accusations, and that he would always want to know if he has made anyone feel uncomfortable at work. Congressman Gerald Connolly (D-VA) asked Jaczko if he has different “philosophical” beliefs from the rest of the commissioners, and the chairman responded in the positive, saying it is “clear by the way we vote.”

Cummings brought up one of the commission’s concerns about the chairman following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. According to the commissioners, the chairman placed the agency in “monitoring mode” and invocated his emergency authority, which gave him sole decision-making power over the NRC following the disaster. Svinicki told Cummings that she does not correlate monitoring mode with a need to call for emergency responses in a country that was not experiencing the disaster. Jaczko noted that he is “comfortable” with what he did after Fukushima. Connolly requested information from the commissioner regarding the NRC’s actions following the August 2011 magnitude 5.8 earthquake  in Mineral, Virginia. The commission held an informational meeting, which according to Jaczko was a “good example of them working together.” Connolly told the panel that the North Anna nuclear power plant in his state was deemed as “exceeding its design basis” after the earthquake, and asked Jaczko what that phrase means. The chairman explained that the 5.8 earthquake was greater in magnitude than the “hypothetical earthquake” that was envisioned when building the power plant.

Jim Jordan (R-OH) noted that the action taken by the bipartisan commission, to send a letter of complaint to the White House, is an “unprecedented” action, and asked Ostendorff if he had ever heard of any similar occurrence taking place during his many years of experience working for federal agencies. Ostendorff said he did not know of any other examples. He told Jordan that the commission discussed their plan of action for several months before sending the letter and tried multiple times to talk with the chairman with no effect. The other three commissioners agreed with Ostendorff’s statement. When Jordan asked the four commissioners if they think the chairman’s actions are politically motivated, each of them declined to speculate whether his actions are political and attributed them to “conduct issues.” Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) told the committee that he doubted the importance of this hearing, as many commissions have internal tensions.

Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) listed the five “serious allegations” in the commissioners’ letter to the White House—bullying staff, withholding information, intimidating the advisory committee, ignoring the will of the majority of the commission, and interacting disrespectfully with the commissioners—and asked Jaczko if any are true. Jaczko declined all, but said that there was one example where he withheld some information from the commissioners “temporarily.” In response to the accusations of bullying and intimidating staff, the chairman replied that he is “just very passionate about safety.” When Issa asked Jaczko if he believes he should make changes to his behavior, the chairman responded that he could improve the communication between the five commissioners. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) asked the chairman if he was sorry for anything he had done while working at the NRC; Jaczko said he apologized for the “distraction” he caused.

Bill Borchardt, the Executive Director for Operations at the NRC, and Stephen Burns, General Counsel at the NRC, testified that there are a number of differing opinions at the NRC and the NRC is ranked as the best place to work in the federal government according to a federal agency survey. Issa asked Borchardt if the chairman has ever altered any information flowing to the commission. Borchardt replied that commission papers and budget proposals have been altered under the chairman’s direction. He added that Jaczko “influences” the content and timing of information given to the commission.

A complete hearing video, witness testimonies, and the committee chairman’s hearing preview statement can all be found on the committee web site.

-ERC

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing on "Review of the NRC's Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century"
August 2, 2011

Witnesses
The Honorable Gregory Jaczko
Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable Kristine Svinicki
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable George Apostolakis
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable William Magwood IV
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Honorable William Ostendorff
Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Subcommittee Members Present
Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chairman
John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member
Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Full Committee Members Present
Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman
James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member
Tom Udall (D-NM)
John Boozman (R-AR)

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a joint hearing on August 2, 2011 regarding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Near-Term Task Force recommendations for enhancing nuclear reactor safety in the future. In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that caused power outages, explosions, core meltdowns, radiation leaks and the ultimate destruction of several nuclear reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichii nuclear power plant in Japan, the Task Force was established to conduct a review of the NRC’s processes and regulations and provide recommendations to the NRC's regulatory system. The Task Force stated that the Fukushima scenario, a meltdown triggered by a tsunami, is unlikely to happen in the U.S. but provided 12 recommendations to improve the NRC regulatory system. Some of the recommendations propose that the NRC require licensees to reevaluate design-basis seismic and flooding protection of structures, enhance spent fuel pool capabilities, upgrade capabilities to prevent seismically induced fire and floods, and strengthen onsite emergency response capabilities.

Full Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) highlighted in her opening statement that she has told the NRC in the past to “heed the wakeup call [of Fukushima] and reevaluate the safety and security of nuclear power plants in the United States, especially when faced with extreme natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding.” She said she would like the Task Force recommendations implemented as soon as possible and hopes that the NRC will take no longer than 90 days to implement. Full Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) said in his testimony that he believes the NRC needs to take time to learn lessons from the Fukushima disaster. The NRC should focus its attention to solving safety weaknesses rather than “redesigning a regulatory framework that has served this country well,” he said. Inhofe stated that there are many facts still unknown about the accident but concluded that the lessons learned and any regulatory changes made need to maximize the safety benefits.

Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper (D-DE) stressed and Tom Udall (D-NM) agreed that safety must be the U.S.’s top priority. Carper stated that “some of the task force recommendations are common sense and should be implemented soon.” He hopes that stakeholders' opinions and public reactions are taken into account before moving forward with any recommendation, however he said he would be disappointed if nothing is in effect “six months or a year down the road.” Subcommittee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) said he believes the current regulatory framework has served the public well. He emphasized that the regulatory framework is not broken and the Task Force report seems to be loaded with recommendations to overhaul the U.S. system of oversight and safety.

Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) concurred that NRC’s job is to make America’s nuclear power plants as safe as possible and that the NRC should act on these recommendations quickly. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated that the U.S. has an aging nuclear fleet and needs to build new nuclear reactors to continue to provide citizens with “clean, reliable electricity.” Mike Johanns (R-NE) concurred with Alexander but was worried that the industry can shut down over time if the U.S. cannot approve the construction of new plants and if safety issues are not dealt with in a cost effective way. John Boozman (R-AR) stated that the NRC needs to implement lessons learned from Fukushima for continuation of safety in the short and long term. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that the Task Force provided a good starting point to improve safety but the NRC cannot delay in implementing the recommendations because “delays are cost.”

Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, provided in his testimony an overview of the Task Force report. He said that the NRC has not reached a decision about how to proceed with the Task Force recommendations but that the NRC is committed to respond to these recommendations in a timely manner. Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William Magwood, and William Ostendorff agreed that the recommendations should go through public, stakeholder, and professional review for further comments and considerations. Svinicki said that the NRC should be allowed to go through a methodical process so that the final response is not shortchanged. Apostolakis commented that the Fukushima event was not “unthinkable” due to the insufficient use of historical tsunami records when determining the design basis of Fukushima. He concluded that the Tack Force recommendations are important and three months should be sufficient time to achieve the report’s objectives.

Boxer asked the panel if most of the 12 recommendations by the Task Force can be implemented within a year. All agreed except Svinicki who said she needed more information. Boxer had a series of questions for Svinicki who continued to push back against a swift implementation of the recommendations. Svinicki told the committee she would like the input of the NRC senior officials and stakeholders before making any decisions. Boxer pointed out that Jaczko is initiating her request of acquiring additional opinions and Boxer insisted to know if the 12 recommendations can be decided upon within 90 days. Svinicki continued that she does not know if all 12 can be decided upon in that time. After listening to her answer, Boxer told her, “Your responses disturb me.”

Boxer then asked the panel of witnesses if the U.S. needs to move forward with harden vent designs in boiling water reactors mark 1 and 2 containments as recommended by the Task Force. Mark 1 is a drywell containment which resembles an inverted lightbulb, and mark 2 is a drywell containment forming a truncated cone on a concrete slab. Jaczko and Apostolakis agreed that the U.S. should move forward with installing these vents. Carper was interested in the recommendations that could be implemented right away. Ostendorff answered that six of the 12 recommendations can be put into effect right away. Jaczko added that four of the 12 recommendations by the Task Force are long-term recommendations.

Inhofe and Sessions had many questions regarding the emergency powers Jaczko assumed during the Fukushima event. Inhofe wanted to know whether the commission has received a report from Jaczko during which he implemented the use of his emergency authority in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Svinicki, Apostolakis, Magwood, and Ostendorff have not received the report nor have they received word that Jaczko has ceased using emergency authority. Jaczko said he is no longer using emergency authority and believes that under statute, he has provided the necessary information detailing the powers he assumed after the emergency powers declaration and acted consistently under the statute.

Lautenberg asked the commissioners when the U.S. will find out all the details of the mishaps that occurred at the Fukushima Dai-ichii power plant. Jaczko stated that it could take years because the plant and the reactors need to be decontaminated before extensive studies can take place. Lautenberg was interested in whether moving spent fuel from pools to dry casks should be a required action or not. Jaczko replied that it is a short term recommendation but a long term analysis would need to be performed in order to determine whether more fuel should be stored in pools or dry casks.

Boxer told the panel that they will be meeting every 90 days to ensure the committee “knows what [the NRC is] doing” and guarantee that the Task Force recommendations are being implemented.

Written testimonies from the witnesses and a documented webcast can be found here.

-VAB

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Hearing on the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2011 (S. 99)

February 1, 2011

Witnesses
Dr. Parrish Staples
Director, Office of European and African Threat Reduction, Global Threat Reduction, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, U.S. Department of Energy
Mr. Roy W. Brown
Federal Affairs Senior Director, The Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals (CORAR)
Margaret Doane
Director of Office of International Programs, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Committee Members Present
Jeff Bingaman, Chairman (D-NM)
Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member (R-AK)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Richard Burr (R-NC)

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on February 1, 2011 on S.99, the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2011. The legislation is intended to encourage domestic production of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) without using highly enriched uranium (HEU). Mo-99 is the parent isotope of technetium-99, which is used to detect cancer, heart disease and thyroid disease and to study brain and kidney function and image stress fractures.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) mentioned the importance of the legislation in regards to securing a reliable supply of Mo-99 to avoid shortages in the future. The United States has not had a domestic supply since 1989, according to Murkowski, and is currently reliant on supplies from Canada and Europe. The “stability and viability of a long term supply is in question,” she said. Bingaman applauded the act for its proposal to phase out the export and use of HEU for medical isotope production and use low enriched uranium (LEU) instead.

Processes based on HEU pose a threat to national security because they use nuclear material enriched to the same degree as that used in nuclear weapons and devices. That material could possibly be acquired by terrorists or rogue states, said Dr. Staples of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been working with national laboratories and industry to develop technologies that omit the need for HEU, he said, and South Africa has already begun LEU-based Mo-99 production. Staples noted that NNSA supports the development of multiple ways to produce Mo-99, therefore avoiding reliance on a sole technology. NNSA works with commercial entities and offers technical support of U.S. national labs.

Brown went over issues that the Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals (CORAR), a group comprised of companies from the radionuclide industry, wants the committee to consider. A provision of the act states that the DOE is required to accept waste created by the production of medical isotope from DOE-leased uranium. CORAR wants an assurance that the cost of such acceptance is reasonable and comparable to prices paid for commercial disposal if it were available, said Brown.

Murkowski asked what happens to the waste product from producing Mo-99 currently. It is stored onsite at the producing facility, said Staples. Staples stated that more waste is generated from LEU processes compared to HEU.

Murkowski asked the witnesses for comment on the NNSA’s attempt to remain ‘technology neutral’ in their support of LEU production. The key to achieving neutrality is to develop multiple technologies and avoid problems due to dependence on one type, Staples responded. Brown said that while CORAR supports the way DOE has given grants so far, it wants to avoid supporting too many areas of technology and losing focus.

Senator Burr asked if Doane, the technical expert from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), could suggest a timeframe for NRC licensing of new reactors that are not currently specified under the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). One of CORAR’s requests is that the act revises the AEA or directs the NRC to permit licensing of new types of reactors. Because the NRC has not received any applications, it cannot estimate a timeframe, said Doane, though it has begun work on pre-licensing processes. The NRC does not expect new legislation to be necessary for licensing of new reactors, and setting up guidelines may be all that is needed, she explained.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.

-DLT


Contributed by Geoscience Policy Staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern, Victoria Bierwirth, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern, Aaron Rodriguez, AAPG/AGI Spring 2012 Intern, Nell Hoagland, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern, and Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on July 30, 2012

 
 

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