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House Panel Expected to Query NRC Commissioners on Regulatory Issues, Decommissioning

Dec. 11, 2013—Periodic congressional hearings on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s response to the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi are resuming after delays caused by the government shutdown in October. Two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Dec. 12 will hear testimony from the five NRC commissioners on topics expected to include:

  • Cumulative impact of regulations: New regulatory actions by the NRC, particularly after the accident in Japan, have attracted considerable interest in Congress. Members of both houses have sent letters to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane raising concerns about the cumulative impact of the agency’s regulatory activity and its potential impact on safety (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Jan. 17). Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-La.) have asked the Government Accountability Office to study whether the NRC’s regulatory analyses accurately weigh the costs of proposed regulations against their safety benefits (see Nuclear Energy Overview, May 30). The letter harshly criticized the NRC’s cost estimates as “egregiously off target.” The GAO has not yet released its study.
     
  • Congressional oversight of NRC activities: A Nov. 21 letter from Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and nine other senators questioned new NRC guidance that restricts congressional access to non-public commission information to the chairman and ranking members of NRC oversight committees. The questions raised in the senators’ letter may prompt similar questions in the House hearing.
     
  • NRC shutdown procedures: The NRC furloughed 90 percent of its workforce during the government shutdown in October while other agencies only furloughed 30 to 35 percent of their workers (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Oct. 31). Members may ask for an explanation of the difference.
     
  • Decommissioning: The NRC does not require licensees to dismantle shutdown nuclear energy facilities immediately. Companies may instead opt to use SAFSTOR, a 60-year process, during which the radioactivity of reactor components decays to lower levels (for more information, see NEI’s fact sheet on Decommissioning Nuclear Energy Facilities). Both Vermont Yankee, which will shut down at the end of 2014, and the San Onofre plant, which stopped operation this year, will implement SAFSTOR. In the other chamber, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have argued for faster decommissioning. Members of the House subcommittees may ask questions about the process.
     

The hearing will be held Thursday, Dec. 12, at 10:15 a.m. EST and will be webcast. NEO will post full coverage of the hearing on Thursday.