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OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN SAM GEJDENSON
This morning we will begin the first of what I expect will be a series of oversight hearings on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. My interest in nuclear power and the NRC is longstanding. I firmly believe that nuclear power is an important energy resource in this country. I also believe that the future success of nuclear power depends on the American people having confidence in the nuclear industry and those that regulate it. We in Connecticut have four fine nuclear power plants, Connecticut Yankee, and Millstone I, II, and III.
It is for this reason that I am increasingly concerned about the NRC. I am concerned that the NRC may not be maintaining an arms length regulatory posture with the commercial nuclear power industry. I am concerned that the NRC may have, in some critical areas, abdicated its role as regulator altogether. I am also concerned that the NRC may not be allowing its investigators the latitude, independence and support necessary to perform their essential function. In short, it is the NRC's charge to oversee the nuclear industry, not to overlook problems in the industry.
Nowhere is there a greater need for close scrutiny by regulators and investigators than in the nuclear industry. This is not because those in the industry are bad people. Most of those who run the commercial nuclear power industry are truly committed people. Close scrutiny is needed because so much is at stake. Due to the inherent danger of nuclear power plants, there 2
is little margin for error. Nuclear power is not a forgiving technology. We are dealing with a technology both delicate and potentially devastating, which can affect the health, welfare, and indeed the lives of millions of people.
The NRC has recognized that human error, the improper operation of complex equipment, is involved in virtually all nuclear accidents. It is therefore imperative that we do everything possible to minimize the chances of errors of this nature.
So, when we discover, as we have, evidence of drug and alcohol abuse at a number of nuclear power plants, it is indeed frightening. If only one power plant operator is drunk, or if only one employee having access to the vital parts of the reactor is under the influence of drugs, it is cause for significant concern. Yet, there is reason to believe that the abuses we have uncovered only represent the tip of the iceberg. This is a scary proposition. And what is worse is that the NRC has turned its back on the problem. It has abdicated its authority to regulate and its responsibility to regulate to the nuclear industry — even when utilities have shown that they are unreliable in protecting against drug and alcohol abuse. In what can only be termed a stunning sequence of events, the subcommittee has learned of two separate cases in which the NRC referred multiple reports of drug and alcohol abuse at each of two utilities to the utilities themselves. In both cases, the officials to whom the utility in turn assigned responsibility to pursue the reports
were soon in legal trouble themselves -- one on drug charges and two for receiving kickbacks.
If the NRC can shut down a nuclear power plant because employees were sleeping on the job, how can it Justify failing to even investigate multiple reports of drug and alcohol abuse? If the NRC can perceive that employees falling asleep represents such an immediate threat to safety, how can it refuse to clearly require that utilities report to the NRC if a plant operator was found drunk at the control panel? And how can the NRC tie its own hands and effectively preclude enforcement action against a utility which has failed to take preventive measures to protect against drug and alcohol abuse? This inconsistency in approach hardly contributes to the credibility of the NRC. Though drug and alcohol abuse at nuclear power plants and the NRC's treatment (or non-treatment) of the problem is only one of the subject areas of today's hearing, it is obviously an important issue. We will also address other notable examples of the NRC's coziness with the industry it is supposed to be regulating at arms length, and the NRC's resistance to independent and objective investigations of its licensees.
To ensure that the nuclear industry is strong, we must be honest with ourselves. We must not be afraid to draw a clear line between the regulator and the regulated. We must demand that the regulator be the one who determines the standards to which the industry must comply and must take appropriately tough action for failure to meet those standards. In the long run, the 4
NRC is not doing the nuclear industry any favors if it is lax in
Finally, we must not be afraid to have truly independent
One final note. It is my intention as Chairman to swear in all witnesses who come before this Subcommittee. While this has not been the past practice in this Committee, it is not my intention by this policy to impugn the integrity of any of today's witnesses or any others who may appear before us in the future. My intention is to avoid the type of problems that have recently come to light in the Iran-Contra hearings. We have provided a copy of the Committee's rules to each of today's witnesses.
Mr. Gejdenson. Before we do that, I have been instructed that I can't overlook my minority friends here. Mr. Smith. Sam, I would hope not.
Mr. Chairman, I absolutely agree with your decision to swear in all witnesses. I think it is one of the things in my 6V2 years here that is most frustrating to me, to find out later that something said was maybe not exactly the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I think we do a great service to the American public for the time and money invested in this type of effort to try and find out exactly what the truth is. By swearing in anyone, we should have obviously already achieved the truth, but I think this just provides a little impetus. I wish that all committees in the Congress would do the same thing, and I think that this is a trend-setter that might bode well.
I think there are a lot of things we can look at in the nuclear industry. I am always appalled at how many people work for the NRC, and their lack of responsiveness to really try and provide an energy independence for this Nation. So we look forward to examining the Commission and how it operates in this oversight hearing.
I also want to state that it is a pleasure to serve on this subcommittee because of the fact that too often we legislate and don't ever look back and see what has resulted from the wide open policies that we provide for the regulators within the original charter of any kind of an independent body.
So I commend you again on swearing in the witnesses. I am sure all of the Commission who have sworn an oath of duty to the Constitution are pleased to be able to do that and are pleased to be able to be here, and we welcome you, gentlemen.
Mr. Gejdenson. Mr. Miller.
Mr. Miller. I would like to commend you for holding these hearings. I think they are not only timely, but also terribly important. I have read some of the testimony that will be presented to the committee this morning, as well as testimony that was recently presented to the Senate Governmental Operations Committee. I must say that I have become increasingly disturbed about the NRC's commitment to the strongest possible safety standards for nuclear powerplants in this country.
I hope that this hearing will be the first of many so that we can finally set this right. It is not a happy occasion for me because some 13 years ago, when I first came to the Congress, we were conducting hearings on these exact topics. We were told then that the issues of drug abuse, of alcohol abuse, and substance abuse would be taken care of by the then Commissioners. We now find ourselves back here asking the same questions and raising the same issues of liability and the same issues of concern among our constituents.
I must say again that at those early hearings we were told that the Commission could handle the problems of harassment of inspectors, both by contractors within the industry and within the NRC. This morning we find that, like our counterparts in the Senate, we are asking the same questions and raising the same problems. I suspect at some point we are going to have to change the makeup of the Commission because apparently, even with all of the promises of good faith efforts and notions of change that have