Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Allison Macfarlane appeared before Congress today alongside NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, William Magwood, and William Ostendorff at a joint hearing hosted by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Environment and the Economy, and Energy and Power.
This was the first congressional hearing with Chairman Macfarlane, who was appointed to the position by the president shortly after previous NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko's resignation. Under Jaczko, the commission suffered a tumultuous tenure fraught with political infighting and a loss of the collegial working environment that is so essential to the NRC's safety mission. At today's hearing, members welcomed Macfarlane to her new position and expressed optimism that she would restore the commission's deteriorated operational relationships. "My hope is that Chairman Macfarlane recognizes that the NRC is no place for politics and that she will work collegially with her colleagues to mend the agency's credibility," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).
Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) expressed a desire to move on from the Jaczko era. He said, "This is an opportunity, not to dwell on the past, but to look to the future through some of the important lessons of recent Commission events and actions. It is critical for our oversight that we examine weaknesses in the NRC's governance identified during the past Chairman's tenure and to assess the many policy challenges facing the agency."
Chairman Macfarlane pledged her commitment to working openly and collegially with her fellow commissioners, stating, "I will devote all my energies to serving on the NRC with the attributes that I consider important to good governance -- openness, efficiency and transparency. I will make a strong commitment to collegiality at all levels. An agency endowed with the public trust such as the NRC requires a respectful working environment to assure its integrity."
Today's hearing included a broad discussion of post-Fukushima changes at the commission and the impact of new regulations and the Fukushima Task Force recommendations on safety and our nation's nuclear plants.
Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) advised the commissioners to consider both the costs and benefits of any future regulatory actions, stating, "I urge the Commission to remember that the costs of these changes are ultimately borne by consumers. For those struggling to fill their gas tanks and pay their bills, we need to ensure that any additional costs are justified by real safety benefits."
Commissioner Svinivki explained that after the highest priority reforms, potential risk reductions diminish. She stated, "It is my personal view we need to begin to return to the discipline of a cost-benefit analysis because subsequent and follow-on actions will likely not have the potential to achieve as significant of a risk reduction."
Commissioner Ostendorff also stressed the need for careful and thorough review of any regulatory changes, noting, "The Task Force recommendations themselves were not accompanied by a regulatory technical analysis. Before we go out as a regulator and issue orders or require things to be changed, it is incumbent upon us to have a regulatory technical analysis."
Members also expressed concern over the commission's tardiness in completing recent license application reviews and issuing license renewals. In response to questioning over the commission's delay, Macfarlane committed to completing license reviews "as efficiently as possible."
Despite her previous criticisms of Yucca Mountain, Macfarlane also committed to keeping an "open mind" in her consideration of the waste repository and pledged to honor the forthcoming DC circuit court's decision over whether the NRC is bound to finish its review of the Yucca Mountain license application.