*Assuming you mostly want to know about the nuclear licensing and relicensing process.
I will be testifying in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee this Wednesday at 10 am EST. It will be webcast. I’ll provide the link later.
First up are all of the commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I’m last on the second panel, most certainly after 11 a.m. EST, probably with just one Senator left, chairman Carper. Still, I’ll get my remarks and written testimony on the record. Excellent….
Here is an E&E Daily article, “Senate panel examines progress of new license review” on the subject:
A panel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will check up on the U.S. nuclear regulator’s progress of reviewing new nuclear reactor licenses and renewing old licenses at a hearing Wednesday.
This is the latest of several hearings on the future of nuclear energy held by Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and ranking member George Voinovich (R-Ohio), key supporters of nuclear power.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received and docketed applications for 15 new reactor licenses and is expecting at least another 15 over the next two years. The industry has argued it is critical that NRC review the applications as efficiently as possible, as any regulatory delays could scare away financial lenders and other projects.
The industry estimates the first new nuclear power plant could be operating by 2014, although other experts have said 2016 is more likely.
NRC Chairman Dale Klein has assured Congress that the commission should have enough staff and resources to review the new licenses in a timely manner — if the agency has the proper budget.
NRC told Congress in February it needs an additional $90 million in funds for its budget in 2009 to cover the costs of reviewing the new licenses as well as other imminent projects. But a strong possibility that Congress may use a continuing resolution for the 2009 appropriations could be a key problem for the agency attempting to ramp up its staff and already cramped working space.
Without the additional money, resources may be tight for NRC over the coming year as the agency must also review DOE’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository license application, license renewal applications and ongoing safety inspections of the current 104-reactor fleet.
David Matthews, director of NRC’s New-Reactor Licensing Division, said the average application review for a new license could take about 42 months and could require staff hours ranging from 86,000 worker-hours to 120,000 worker-hours depending on if it uses a reactor design that has been NRC certified.
It is also very early in NRC’s new review process for reactor licenses, and unknown problems could emerge. A Government Accountability Office report issued last year said NRC had yet to fill some critical positions, develop training courses or implement computer-based tools “intended to enhance consistency and coordination” in the license reviews. NRC has worked quickly to fill positions and train new workers over the past year, but it can take about two years to fully train new workers, according to Klein.
The report also said, “NRC has not fully developed criteria for setting priorities if the workload exceeds available staff and contractor resources,” which could be critically tested if a continuing resolution is passed this year instead of a separate appropriations budget for NRC.
Twenty more years
Carper said NRC’s continued vigilance of the current reactor fleet and the license renewal process is as important or more important than the new license application reviews.
“All existing plants must perform at the highest level of excellence, or it will be difficult to justify bringing any new plants online,” Carper said at a hearing last year.
NRC originally licensed each of the 104 U.S. commercial reactors for 40 years and many are facing the end of that period over the next 10 years. The Nuclear Energy Institute says 40 years is based on the a power companies’ amortization period on large equipment and not based on any safety, environmental or technical issues. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 was created so that companies could renew their operating licenses, NEI argues. Maintaining the output from the current fleet is important if nuclear energy is to remain 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply in the near-term future.
So far, NRC has issued 20-year license renewals for 48 reactors; there are 15 currently undergoing review and companies are expected to file renewal applications for 23 more reactors by 2013. NRC has managed to average about two years to review the license renewals.
But nuclear watchdog groups have criticized the process, saying NRC is not scrutinizing the applications thoroughly, especially the understanding of the stress on the equipment in the power plants in reality versus calculated on paper based on scientific understanding of materials.
A report last year from the inspector general that found NRC staff were basically copying parts of applications word-for-word in their final reviews has also stoked criticism. The report said NRC should establish report-writing standards and staff should write original analyses, otherwise “those who read the reports could conclude that regulatory decisions are not adequately reviewed and documented.”
A coalition of environmental groups filed a petition with NRC to stop its license renewal process until “objective and independent analyses” can be assured. But a spokesman for NRC said the agency does already have an independent and objective review and “comes to its own conclusions” on the merits of an application.
Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, July 16, at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.
Witnesses: Dale Klein, chairman, NRC; Gregory Jaczko, commissioner, NRC; Peter Lyons, commissioner, NRC; Kristine Svinicki, commissioner, NRC; Hubert Bell, inspector general, NRC; David Christian, president and chief nuclear officer, Dominion; Anthony Pietrangelo, vice president for regulatory affairs, NEI; Richard Webster, legal director, Eastern Environmental Law Center; Joseph Romm, senior fellow, Center for American Progress; and H. John Gilbertson Jr., managing director, Goldman, Sachs & Co.