WASHINGTON—The nuclear energy industry today called on Congress to provide vigilant oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its budding efforts to develop a regulatory process with a greater focus on those issues directly related to safety.
Testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on clean air and nuclear safety, the Nuclear Energy Institute's president and chief executive officer, Joe F. Colvin said, "the single most important challenge facing the nuclear energy industry is a regulatory process that consumes licensee and NRC resources on issues that have little or no safety significance and that produces inconsistency in how the agency assesses plant performance."
Congress should require the NRC to develop and implement a long-term strategic plan, complete with timetables and milestones, for regulatory approaches and plant assessment methods that remove subjectivity and vagueness from the regulatory process, Colvin said. While the industry applauds initiatives that the agency already has launched to sharpen its regulatory focus on safety-significant issues, congressional oversight hearings should take place at least every six months "until Congress is satisfied that progress in reforming the regulatory process is proceeding in the proper direction," Colvin said.
He called on the subcommittee to schedule another hearing by June and direct the agency's commissioners to submit its multi-year strategy to reform the regulatory process at that time.
Colvin said Congress should ensure that the NRC fully adheres to budgeting requirements regarding its user fees and submit legislation, if necessary, to clarify that the agency fees levied on licensees reflect only those NRC programs necessary to regulate licensees. Experts estimate that user fees are $56 million higher than needed for the agency to recover the cost of its services.
"Unrelated agency expenditures, such as international activities and regulatory support to agreement states or other federal agencies, should not be included in nuclear plant licensee user fees, but should be included in a specific line item on the NRC's budget, subject to the authorization and appropriations process," Colvin said.
In addition to developing a long-range plan to implement risk-informed regulatory change, the NRC should identify legislative changes warranted by the restructuring of the electric utility industry, he said. Legislative changes could include revisions to the 43-year-old Atomic Energy Act, specifically removing the requirement that the NRC conduct antitrust reviews during licensing proceedings for plant license transfers, and dropping the prohibition on foreign ownership of commercial nuclear facilities.
Colvin noted that the industry, with 103 nuclear power plants safely operating in 31 states, has amassed more than 2,000 reactor years of operating experience. Nuclear power is the nation's largest source of emission-free energy, meeting nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs.
"The nation's nuclear power plants provide clean air benefits while producing electricity at a competitive price. Policymakers increasingly are recognizing the important benefits of nuclear energy to our economy, our environment and energy future," he said.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.