February 28, 2008

STATEMENT ON CLEAN AIR AND NUCLEAR ENERGY

Mister Chairman:

Thank you for holding this hearing and for allowing me to join your subcommittee for the day.  I am grateful for your courtesy.

Because we have so many important witnesses to hear from today, I will keep my opening statement brief.

For the first time in 30 years, the nuclear industry is moving forward with plans to construct and activate a new generation of nuclear power plants.  Already, TVA has begun to expand its nuclear capacity with the recent restart of a reactor at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Alabama.  In his testimony today, NRC Chairman Klein states that, just over the last few months, the Commission has received five complete combined license applications for new nuclear power plants.  Dozens of new plants could be online by 2015.

If we are to going to expand the nuclear power industry in the United States, then Americans need to have confidence that the nuclear plant operations are dependable and plant operations must, in fact, be secure.  I want to impress just how weighty this matter is. 

NRC's number one priority must be to ensure that adequate security systems and processes are in place, and that they are working properly and efficiently at all times.

We have seen two recent instances in which security shortcomings have come to light. The first of these was uncovered in July of 2007 after investigators from the Government Accountability Office fraudulently secured a license from the NRC which would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed to make a dirty bomb.

The only portion of the GAO's security test that did not work was when it attempted to obtain a license from the state of Maryland, which said it would require a visit to the business first.  While I am proud of Maryland regulators, I am disappointed that my state government could recognize a danger my national government overlooked.

The second instance of security failures was the unsettling scenes of security guards at Peach Bottom Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania asleep on the job when they should have been protecting the plant from security breaches.

Peach Bottom is only a matter of miles from the border of my home State of Maryland. The consequences of a security failure there could be catastrophic for Maryland residents and many others.

I am glad to hear Chairman Klein has instituted Maryland's licensing procedures at the national level to prevent the type of licensing fraud GAO was able to undertake.  And I am pleased to see the NRC's thorough evaluation of its response to the Peach Bottom allegations. 

I want to hear assurances from the Commissioners that the review team's recommendations will be implemented.  I want to hear that the Commission is developing ways to expand on those recommendations and share those lessons beyond the region that surrounds the Peach Bottom facility.  I want to hear that all that can be done is being done to ensure that the nation's Nuclear Plants are being well run and adequately protected. 

In my home state of Maryland, 28 percent of electricity generation is in the form of nuclear energy.  The Energy Information Administration is forecasting output of nuclear energy will grow by 42 percent by 2030. 

It is essential that we be 100 percent confident in our assertions that the public in Maryland and across the United States are secure, and will remain secure as we move forward with plans to expand our nuclear energy infrastructure and capacity.  I look forward to hearing answers today to their concerns and my own.

Thank you, Mister Chairman.