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Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony

March 9, 2000, Thursday


LENGTH: 2067 words

HEADLINE: TESTIMONY March 09, 2000 GEORGE V. VOINOVICH SENATOR SENATE environment & public works clean air, wetlands, private property, and nuclear safety NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH MARCH 9, 2000 Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be here this morning for this hearing on the operation and program management of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and I am pleased to welcome our colleague, Senator Jeff Sessions. In addition we will be hearing from NRC Chairman Richard A. Meserve, Commissioner Greta Joy Dicus, Commissioner Nils Diaz, Commissioner Edward McGaffen, and Commissioner Jeff Merrifield. Rounding out the witness panels, we have Ralph Beedle, of the Nuclear Energy Institute, Gary Jones, from the General Accounting Of lice, David Adelman, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and William Kennedy of the Health Physics Society. According to the mission statement on its web site, it is the principal responsibility of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) "to ensure adequate protection of the public health and safety, the common defense and security, and the environment in the use of nuclear materials in the United States. The NRC's scope of responsibility includes regulation of commercial nuclear power reactors; non-power research, test, and training reactors; fuel cycle facilities; medical, academic, and industrial uses of nuclear materials; and the transport, storage, and disposal of nuclear materials and waste." The very nature of nuclear materials makes the job of the NRC one of utmost importance - it is up to the NRC to make sure that our nation's nuclear facilities are running at their safest possible level. Equally important is the safeguarding of our nuclear materials from misuse. The NRC is probably one of the few agencies in the entire country where the job requirement is 100% perfection. Failure to maintain strict safety requirements could have a disastrous impact on millions. It is also up to the NRC to make sure that the United States has enough high-quality nuclear material for the purpose of maintaining an effective nuclear weapons arsenal. One of the main processors of this high-quality nuclear material is the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio. As our witnesses may be aware, I have had a long-standing interest in the future of the Portsmouth plant. Since 1954 - the beginning of the Cold War - the Portsmouth plant's main purpose has been to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons and propulsion systems for naval vessels. Over the years, thousands of dedicated men and women in the civilian workforce at Piketon helped keep our military fully supplied and our nation fully prepared to meet any potential threat. Their success is measured in part with the end of the Cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the (commissioners and Chairman Meserve are aware, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), which operates the Piketon facility, announced last month that it will reduce its workforce by 20% at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio and its sister plant, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah, Kentucky. The NRC re-certified USEC's operation of both plants in January of 1999, primarily based on USEC's investment-grade corporate credit rating. However, on February 4th of this year, Standard and Poor downgraded USEC's credit rating to below investment grade level. The "Agreement on Post-Closing Conduct" that USEC entered into with the Department of Treasury outlined "significant events" which would allow USEC to close down one of the facilities prior to 2005. One of these "significant events" is a downgraded credit rating. USEC's recent credit rating downgrade is prompting the NRC to reevaluate its "finding of inimicality". Under the USEC Privatization Act (Public Law 104-134), the NRC is authorized to review whether USEC's license "would be inimical to the common defense and security of the United States; or the maintenance of a reliable and economical domestic source of enrichment services." I believe the NRC must carefully consider its options with respect to USEC, because the most severe action the NRC could take - revoking USEC's license - involves serious ramifications. USEC is our nation's sole producer of enriched uranium, and, as the NRC knows, enriched uranium is a necessary component of America's nuclear fuel cycle and strategic weapons systems. Revocation of USEC's license would have an impact on our ability to meet domestic, commercial nuclear power needs and could jeopardize our national security. I have every confidence that the NRC will take these and all factors into consideration before rendering a decision on the future of USEC's license. In addition, I believe the NRC must consider the full impact of USEC's recent announcements regarding layoffs at Piketon and Paducah. I am concerned that layoffs at these plants also will have a negative impact on our nation's ability to access our domestic sources to nuclear energy. Further, the NRC must weigh the long-term national security effects as a result of our potential reliance on alternative, foreign nuclear fuel sources. The NRC needs to ascertain whether the announced layoffs will be "inimical" to our domestic nuclear fuel supply, as outlined in the USEC Privatization Act. Another nuclear-related issue that I am concerned about is the long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste. Without a long- term solution to this problem, the Perry and Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plants in Northeast Ohio will reach maximum capacity in 2007 and 2017 respectively. If a permanent storage solution is not reached, it could jeopardize the viability of one or both of these plants. This is an important issue to Ohioans, since approximately 12 percent of the electricity generated in Ohio comes from nuclear plants. The American people have contributed some $15 billion to design and construct a permanent home for high-level nuclear waste. More than $6 billion of that has already been spent. Since 1977, when the Davis-Besse nuclear plant was built, Ohioans have paid more than $287 million into this fund - $22 million just last year. It is unconscionable for the federal government to continue to impose this tax without using the funds to finish constructing the permanent site. Last month, like 63 of my colleagues, I voted in favor of S. 1287, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, to get the federal government "off the dime." I am pleased to read in Chairman Meserve's testimony that the NRC continues to prepare for the Department of Energy's application for a high-level repository at Yucca Mountain and that the NRC has "proposed implementing regulations that...will serve to protect public health, safety and the environment." Further, I am pleased that the NRC has given comments to DoE on its "viability assessment, draft environmental impact statement and draft siting guidelines for Yucca Mountain." One final item I would like to bring up with the NRC is our nation's lack of a coherent/cohesive energy policy. This is obviously an issue that will need to be addressed, particularly in light of recent increases in prices for home heating oil and gasoline as well as the future of nuclear energy in our nation. Mr. Chairman, my schedule precludes me from staying for the duration of this hearing, however, I will submit a series of questions to our witnesses. I would like to thank them for coming here this morning and I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.

LOAD-DATE: March 15, 2000, Wednesday

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