July 07, 2009
Contact: Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202)224-9797 - Inhofe
Joel DiGrado (202)224-4623 -Vitter
WASHINGTON, D.C. –In a letter sent today , U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Senator David Vitter(R-La.), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, asked the General Accountability Office to examine the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) new plant licensing process.
“In order to ensure a safety-focused and efficient process, I encourage the NRC to develop a comprehensive plan including a predictable schedule detailing how it will consider and issue combined Construction and Operating Licenses (COLs),” Senator Inhofe said. “If we want to attract investment in this great clean energy source, a consistent and timely methodology for awarding licenses is imperative.”
“Nuclear energy is a clean and potentially abundant resource that is being stalled by bureaucratic hurdles. We need the NRC to develop a detailed and workable plan to help cut through the red tape and expedite nuclear plant licensing. This action alone would have a great impact in reducing carbon emissions without having to tax energy sources or creating greater costs for American families’ utility bills,” said Vitter.
Full text of letter below:
The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Acting Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G St. NW
Washington DC, 20548
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has made great progress preparing for and beginning reviews of new nuclear plant license applications in the last two years. Licensing a new nuclear plant is a complex endeavor. Proper planning, detailed schedules, and Commission and applicant engagement are essential for a thorough, efficient, fair, and predictable process that ensures protection of public health and safety and the environment.
At this time, the Commission itself does not appear to have developed the detailed schedules of how the agency, especially the hearing boards and the Commission, will consider and issue decisions on combined Construction and Operating Licenses (COLs). In the recent past, the Commission has issued detailed instructions in the LES uranium enrichment facility licensing effort and in considering previous license extension applications.
To gain a full appreciation of the agency’s progress on new plant applications, we would like the GAO to examine whether the NRC’s new plant licensing process, especially the Commission’s own role, is as predictable and consistent as it should be when compared with other licensing activities. Please assess to what extent the NRC is meeting previously stated scheduling goals and hearing milestones, whether lessons learned on early applications have resulted in time and resource efficiencies on later ones, and whether the Commission has issued adequately specific supervisory instructions concerning both the licensing process in general and for individual applications. Where appropriate, please compare current new plant licensing activities to previously referenced licensing actions for enrichment plants and license renewals. Please assess whether license reviews have been scheduled and planned with sufficient specificity to support accurate budgeting for required resources. Attached is a more detailed list of the issues we would like the GAO to analyze.
To gain a broad understanding of these issues, please interview present NRC Commissioners, recent commissioners who participated in the development and implementation of 10 CFR Part 52, key NRC staff, key executives and staff of new reactor license applicants, and other industry representatives as those primarily responsible for the conduct of this activity. Other stakeholder views can be considered as necessary to illuminate your work on this matter.
It is important that the Commission, its staff, and the applicants utilize a process that proves to be more effective and more efficient than that used during the construction of the current fleet of reactors. Applicants need to produce quality applications and, when they have done so, deserve a predictable and efficient process that improves with experience. With that in mind, please develop specific ways in which the Commission can improve the conduct of its license application reviews for new reactors.
We look forward to your recommendations.
Senator James M. Inhofe
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Senator David Vitter
Subcommitee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
Committee on Environment and Public Works