Thursday, May 05, 2011

Hearing Report on the “Role of the NRC in America's Energy Future”

Below is a summary of yesterday’s House hearing by NEI’s Senior Director of Political Affairs, Hannah Simone.

This morning the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy conducted a joint hearing entitled, “The Role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in America’s Energy Future.” Witnesses were four of the five NRC commissioners: The Hon. Gregory B. Jaczko, Chairman; The Hon. Kristine L. Svinicki, Commissioner ; The Hon. William D. Magwood, Commissioner; The Hon. William C. Ostendorff, Commissioner.

Chairman Ed Whitfield and Chairman John Shimkus co-chaired the hearing.

During the three-hour, somewhat contentious hearing, a number of Members – both Republicans and Democrats – questioned the Chairman’s and Commissioners’ actions taken regarding the Yucca Mountain repository. Chairman Upton indicated that he was concerned that the decision-making process at the NRC might be breaking down and while he appreciated the expertise and independence of the Commission, the issue of long-term waste storage of spent fuel had to be addressed.

During Q and A, Chairman Shimkus asked each of the Commissioners if they had filed their votes to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application – and if they indeed considered it a “vote” rather than “prepared remarks”. Commissioners Svinicki, Magwood and Ostendorff all indicated they cast their vote on the issue. Chairman Jaczko said that this was not a vote and that the Commission had to work to achieve a majority position and then execute it through a Commission order.

A number of other Members questioned the Commissioners repeatedly as to whether or not they believed a vote had been held and why there was not more transparency in the Commission’s actions. Chairman Emeritus Barton stated that he believed Chairman Jaczko was “playing some sort of foot-dragging game.” Congressman Terry said “the level of non-information is frustrating - I'm very disturbed." Congressman Dingell indicated he remained “troubled about Yucca Mountain” and Congressman Inslee said he believed that the NRC “reversed course” on Yucca without the statutory authority from Congress.

One issue that was discussed in depth was a letter sent to Chairman Darrell Issa on behalf of the Commission by Chairman Jaczko in March; the Commissioners all testified that they had approved a different draft than what was sent by the Chairman. Once they learned an “unapproved” draft had been sent, the Commissioners sent their own letter. This was clearly a contentious issue amongst the Commissioners.

Ranking Member Waxman talked about some emails from a NRC staffer that had been leaked and directly asked Chairman Jaczko if he had delayed action on the Yucca Mountain license application for political reasons (he responded no) or if he had directed staff to stop review of Yucca Mountain through illegal channels (he answered no).

Chairman Upton told the Commissioners that this was NOT ending today; he asked if the Commissioners believed that the staff at the NRC was sharing information equally with each of them; all of the Commissioners indicated that it was difficult to ascertain what they didn’t know” but – while at times there was some pushback – staff did share information equally most of the time.

Subcommittee Chairman Whitfield asked Chairman Jaczko about his decision to invoke the 50-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima plants; he said that he did so at the recommendation of staff. There was then a discussion about invocation of emergency power by the Chairman during the Fukushima situation; the Commissioners each indicated that they had never been notified by the Chairman that he had invoked these powers. The Commissioners were also asked if they were told not to visit the NRC Emergency Operations Center monitoring the situation in Japan; all three Commissioners testified that it was requested they not visit the ERC as they might distract staff.

Other issues mentioned by Members were relicensing of Diablo Canyon (Representative Capps); relicensing of Indian Point (Representative Engell) small reactor license applications (Chairman Upton) and questions about security procedures (Congressman Green)

This is an abbreviated overview of a very long and complex hearing.

Hearing Background Memo

Opening Statement for Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Whitfield

Opening Statement for Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman Shimkus

Opening Statement for Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Upton

Testimony for NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko

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