[Senate Hearing 107-89]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
S. Hrg. 107-89
NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
ENERGY AND WATER DEVELOPMENT
COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
TO CONDUCT OVERSIGHT ON THE STATE OF THE NUCLEAR POWER
INDUSTRY AND THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY IN A COMPREHENSIVE ENERGY
MAY 3, 2001
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
73-965 WASHINGTON : 2001
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
FRANK H. MURKOWSKI, Alaska, Chairman
PETE V. DOMENICI, New Mexico JEFF BINGAMAN, New Mexico
DON NICKLES, Oklahoma DANIEL K. AKAKA, Hawaii
LARRY E. CRAIG, Idaho BYRON L. DORGAN, North Dakota
BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, Colorado BOB GRAHAM, Florida
CRAIG THOMAS, Wyoming RON WYDEN, Oregon
RICHARD C. SHELBY, Alabama TIM JOHNSON, South Dakota
CONRAD BURNS, Montana MARY L. LANDRIEU, Louisiana
JON KYL, Arizona EVAN BAYH, Indiana
CHUCK HAGEL, Nebraska DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California
GORDON SMITH, Oregon CHARLES E. SCHUMER, New York
MARIA CANTWELL, Washington
Brian P. Malnak, Staff Director
David G. Dye, Chief Counsel
James P. Beirne, Deputy Chief Counsel
Robert M. Simon, Democratic Staff Director
Sam E. Fowler, Democratic Chief Counsel
COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
TED STEVENS, Alaska, Chairman
THAD COCHRAN, Mississippi ROBERT C. BYRD, West Virginia
ARLEN SPECTER, Pennsylvania DANIEL K. INOUYE, Hawaii
PETE V. DOMENICI, New Mexico ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, South Carolina
CHRISTOPHER S. BOND, Missouri PATRICK J. LEAHY, Vermont
MITCH McCONNELL, Kentucky TOM HARKIN, Iowa
CONRAD BURNS, Montana BARBARA A. MIKULSKI, Maryland
RICHARD C. SHELBY, Alabama HARRY REID, Nevada
JUDD GREGG, New Hampshire HERB KOHL, Wisconsin
ROBERT F. BENNETT, Utah PATTY MURRAY, Washington
BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, Colorado BYRON L. DORGAN, North Dakota
LARRY CRAIG, Idaho DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, Texas RICHARD J. DURBIN, Illinois
MIKE DeWINE, Ohio TIM JOHNSON, South Dakota
MARY L. LANDRIEU, Louisiana
Steven J. Cortese, Staff Director
Lisa Sutherland, Deputy Staff Director
Terrence E. Sauvain, Minority Staff Director
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
PETE V. DOMENICI, New Mexico Chairman
THAD COCHRAN, Mississippi HARRY REID, Nevada
MITCH McCONNELL, Kentucky ROBERT C. BYRD, West Virginia
ROBERT F. BENNETT, Utah ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, South Carolina
CONRAD BURNS, Montana PATTY MURRAY, Washington
LARRY CRAIG, Idaho BYRON DORGAN, North Dakota
TED STEVENS, Alaska (ex officio) DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California
Drew Willison (Minority)
Nancy Olkewicz (Minority)
C O N T E N T S
Ahearne, John, Adjunct Professor, Duke University, Durham, NC.... 26
Asselstine, James K., Managing Director, Lehman Brothers, Inc.,
New York, NY................................................... 21
Bingaman, Hon. Jeff, U.S. Senator from New Mexico................ 5
Domenici, Hon. Pete V., U.S. Senator from New Mexico............. 4
Landrieu, Hon. Mary L., U.S. Senator from Louisiana.............. 6
MacLean, Heather J., Graduate Student, Nuclear Engineering,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA........... 30
McNeill, Corbin A., Jr., Chairman & Co-CEO, Exelon Corporation,
Chicago, IL.................................................... 14
Meserve, Richard, Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission... 7
Murkowski, Hon. Frank H., U.S. Senator from Alaska............... 1
Rhodes, Richard, Author, Madison, CT............................. 28
NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY
THURSDAY, MAY 3, 2001
U.S. Senate, Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources, and the Subcommittee on Energy and
Water Development of the Committee on
Appropriations, Washington, DC.
The committee and subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at
10:04 a.m. in room SD-366, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon.
Frank H. Murkowski, chairman, Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources, and Hon. Pete V. Domenici, chairman, Subcommittee on
Energy and Water Development, Committee on Appropriations,
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. FRANK H. MURKOWSKI,
U.S. SENATOR FROM ALASKA
Chairman Murkowski. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I
want to welcome you to this joint hearing between the Energy
and Natural Resources Committee and the Subcommittee on Energy
and Water of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
What we are going to discuss today is a very important
matter, and that is the state of the nuclear power industry and
the future of the industry in a comprehensive energy strategy.
I am very pleased to have two of my colleagues with me, Senator
Bingaman, the ranking minority member of this committee, and my
good friend Senator Domenici, who is the senior member of the
Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I might add, both from
The hearing on the state of our nuclear power industry and
the future of that industry in a comprehensive energy strategy,
is timely, to say the least. We are seeing more and more
interest in utilizing nuclear energy as a consequence of the
energy crisis that this country is in. We can reflect on
California and we can reflect on increasing gasoline prices, or
increasing natural gas prices in our own bills here in
Washington, D.C. that clearly indicate we have a significant
increase in demand, and our supply sources are not keeping up
with that demand.
Thanks to these members and Senator Domenici in particular
for his tireless efforts on this subject, we have this
opportunity this morning, and I am very pleased that both the
Senators from New Mexico are working together on this. I look
forward to co-chairing with Senator Domenici.
Now, as you are well aware, I have introduced a bipartisan
comprehensive energy bill that addresses both supply and demand
issues. We must have a diverse and responsible energy mix if we
are ever to lessen our dependence on imported oil, and I do not
say replace it, but I say lessen.
As we reflect on the role of nuclear energy, it is
interesting to reflect that it is an industry we have somewhat
taken for granted. It produces about 20 percent of the power
generation of this country, and leveled off there, and we
really have not had any new developments for about 10 years. I
had used 20 years, but I was reminded by Earl Nye that it is in
reality 10 years. That is Texas Utilities, in case you are
Now, we must have a diverse and responsible response to
meeting our energy demands. Production of electricity from
nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases, no CO2, no
SOX, no NOX. It is a base load power,
keeps our grid stable, reliable, and it is kind of interesting
to note in the California chaos, nuclear still supplies about
16 percent of California's electricity. We wonder where
California would be today without the nuclear power industry.
High natural gas prices and low uranium prices have helped to
make electricity produced from nuclear some of the cheapest in
the country. Perhaps some day we might reach the fabled ``too
cheap to meter'' goal, but I am not going to hold my breath for
that to happen.
Safe, efficient U.S. nuclear plants are operating at record
efficiencies in this country today. U.S. nuclear reactors have
achieved close to 90 percent efficiency, a dramatic increase,
and those organizations that have achieved that have a great
deal to be proud of, because they have done it in a manner that
does not compromise safety.
Total efficiency increases during the nineties for existing
plants was the equivalent of adding approximately 23 1,000
megawatt power units, and keep in mind, that is all clean, non-
emitting generation. And now we have seen nuclear energy on the
upswing. 4 or 5 years ago, who would have thought we would hear
talk of buying and selling, and yes, even planning to build new
plants. Today, this discussion is happening.
I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to discuss how you
would approach the conceptual idea of proceeding with a new
powerplant. The suggestion was made that you might go to an
area where you already have an existing plant where the siting
has been approved, so you do not have that problem to go
through, maybe get four or five of the major utilities to come
together to underwrite the cost and take a proportional equity
interest in a new nuclear powerplant, with the provision that
the Government, without eliminating any safeguards, would
guarantee that once it was built to specifications, it would be
allowed to go into production, because that is one of the risks
of building a nuclear plant. You could build it, and then you
might find you cannot license it, but nevertheless, it was an
interesting conversation, and I think it is healthy that the
industry is beginning to explore some possible developments in
getting back in nuclear construction.
U.S. industry, as I have indicated, is beginning to
consider putting dollars into the evaluation of new plants. By
the end of 2001 the Chicago-based Exelon Corporation will have
invested, I am told, $15 million in a South African venture to
build a pebble-bed modular reactor. We have Mr. Corbin McNeill
here today to tell us a little bit more about that, so I will
not go into that any further, but given the public's general
acceptance that we have got to address this energy crisis,
there is more and more awareness and consideration given to the
role of the nuclear industry.
This past April, the Associated Press commissioned a poll
that suggests half of those polled support using nuclear
powerplants to reduce the electricity--I am not sure I believe
this figure coming up, but it says 56 percent would not mind a
nuclear plant within 10 miles of their home. I think that is
contrary to the NIMBY theory of not in my backyard, but anyway,
I will just read what it says, because I want to make the staff
feel that I have done my job.
Chairman Murkowski. Granted, we still have to solve our
waste problem, but I believe that has been more of a political
problem than a technical problem. Those of us who observed what
the French have done, particularly as a consequence of the 1973
Arab oil embargo, where they made a decision they were not
going to be held hostage by the Mideast, and went off on a
nuclear binge, and now 75 percent of their power is generated
by nuclear power, and it evidently does not affect the wine,
because as you go through France, you see powerplants out in
The significance of what they have done, though, is the
technology to recover the waste. Our industry is strangling on
its waste. They have a technique to recover the waste, put the
plutonium back into the reactor, burn the plutonium, reduce the
proliferation risk, vitrify the waste and put it away, and we
are still agonizing about what to do with the waste.
In any event, in conclusion, we perhaps are making progress
on Yucca Mountain. I have not checked with the Nevada
delegation lately, but I am encouraged by the Department of
Energy's IG investigation that found no bias in the science
process at Yucca. It seems like if any excuse comes up to delay
that process, why Murphy will make sure it comes up.
We now expect the science and engineering report from the
Department any day, and I am confident that, as with the
December 1999 Viability Assessment, there will be no show-
stoppers. I am confident of that. In any event, if we ever hope
to achieve energy security and energy independence in this
country, we cannot abandon the nuclear option. It is an
important and integral part of our energy mix, our economy
depends on nuclear energy, our national security depends on
nuclear energy, our environment depends on nuclear energy, and
our future, to a large degree, in electric generation depends
on nuclear energy.
So I look forward to the witnesses, and look for a lively
discussion. Senator Domenici, since you and I are co-chairing
this, and that puts Senator Bingaman, I guess, since there is
only three or four of us here--ordinarily I would call on
Senator Bingaman, but you are co-chairing, so in the order of
deference between the two of you, you can figure it out.
STATEMENT OF HON. PETE V. DOMENICI, U.S. SENATOR
FROM NEW MEXICO
Senator Domenici. We had actually figured on starting
without you, he and I, and I was going to----
Senator Domenici [continuing]. Chair it anyway. We had
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Murkowski. It's a good thing I got here.
Senator Domenici. We would have had a disaster. In any
event, let me take just a few moments. First I want to join
Senator Murkowski in calling this meeting to order. The
Subcommittee of Appropriations that is called Energy and Water,
which I have been privileged to chair for a long time, has most
of the money and the funding from the Federal Government
standpoint when it comes to nuclear power and all the other
matters nuclear, and not too many years ago, there is no
question that we would not have considered such a hearing,
because there would have been little or no interest. People
would have been wondering what we were doing.
At that point we had a lot of extra energy, so it even made
it more of a hearing that people would not consider very
relevant. We had a supply of nuclear power, and it was a dying
industry, and all I guess we want to leave with today is the
theme of how things have changed, and I think they have changed
for the better.
Headlines in papers all across the country call out the new
interest in nuclear energy. I see a few of them up there on the
chart. We will talk to them in just a moment.
Today, it is increasingly recognized that nuclear energy is
providing a safe, reliable, and wonderfully clean energy for
our electrical needs. It does not matter much what paper you
refer to, the Washington Post, Washington Times, New York
Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the picture is the same.
Nuclear energy is poised for a dramatic rebirth. I believe that
if we will just get leadership in the Congress and the White
House, it will happen. One headline says, It is Time for Greens
to go Nuclear. Wall Street Journal, and Nuclear Power Can Halt
Shortages, Los Angeles Times.
Less than 4 years ago, October 1997, at Harvard University,
the stage was pretty lonely when I started participating in a
series of lectures and speeches. I called for a new dialogue in
nuclear technologies. The progress since then has been
spectacular. The energy crisis finally being obvious--it was
there all along, the shortage--has pushed this premise along
very, very rapidly.
Our witnesses today, and many of you in this room, have
worked to provide accurate information to the public about
nuclear power, its current impact and its future promise. I am
very proud to realize now that if we repeated the Harvard
speech today, the stage would be crowded, so let me cite three
of the spectacular events, achievements of nuclear energy.
First, it is producing 22 percent of our electricity at
costs that are now even lower than coal, and the availability
of the 103 plants has increased so dramatically that we have
effectively gained output of more than 20 plants, without
building any. That is, the efficiency of the plants has done
Second, its safety record is absolutely superb. New safety
records are being set by our commercial plants every day, and
our nuclear Navy powerplants, which have more than twice the
operational experience of commercial plants, have never had a
At the same time, I like to emphasize that 90 nuclear ships
of the Navy, powered by over 100 reactors, are welcomed into
just about every port in the world, with just one exception,
New Zealand, and they carry in their bowels one or two nuclear
powerplants with spent fuel rods on board, and they boat into
ports, and are welcome. I think that means there is very little
risk. That is how I see it.
Third, it has avoided air emissions, more than 2 billion
tons of carbon. I just received life cycle data from a new
Japanese study. It confirms the tremendous advantage of nuclear
energy over fossil fuel plants, and shows that solar and wind
are larger pollutant emitters than nuclear.
In some of my recent discussion about nuclear energy, I
have discussed the increasing trend toward globalization,
through globalization the world becomes more integrated, and
clearly it is one way to provide more economic prosperity for
the world. Our high technology products find themselves in the
markets of these countries, and it is pretty obvious these
countries are going to need energy. What will they choose?
At this point in history, I am sure one of the witnesses
can tell us who has orders for nuclear powerplants now, what
countries around the world are ordering them. What is the
backlog, what is the long term as of now, what do orders look
like in the Koreas and Japans and others?
So from my standpoint, there is going to be prosperity in
the world, and American leadership is going to have to insist
on prosperity in America, and when we look at our energy needs,
subtract all the conservation we can do, there is still a huge
supply vacuum. I think we are going to be able to honestly
assess the role of nuclear in that, and I believe it will be
significant, and I believe it will occur. It will not be
sometime 100 years from now like people thought. It will be in
a reasonable time frame.
With that, I want to just quickly--unless you want to
introduce the witnesses.
Chairman Murkowski. No, I will be happy, you can introduce
them. Maybe Senator Bingaman would like to--
Senator Domenici. Fine. Senator Bingaman, I yield.
STATEMENT OF HON. JEFF BINGAMAN, U.S. SENATOR
FROM NEW MEXICO
Senator Bingaman. Well, thank both of you for scheduling
this hearing, both chairmen. I believe there is strong
bipartisan support, at least on the Energy Committee, for
nuclear power. Nuclear power does play a very essential role,
an indispensable role in providing the power that we use today.
By extending the operating lives of the current generation of
nuclear plants, the expectation is, I think, realistic that it
will continue to play a very central role.
The more difficult question, which I am sure we will hear a
lot of testimony about, is whether new nuclear powerplants will
be built in the foreseeable future in this country. Plainly,
they would not have been built under the cumbersome and
uncertain licensing and regulatory process of the past, but 9
years ago Congress streamlined that licensing system. The
system that we enacted in 1992 remains untested and unused, but
it does offer the next generation of reactors more timely and
predictable licensing decisions than the old system did.
The reasons the utility industry has been unwilling to
order new powerplants, as far as I understand it, is primarily
an economic reason, and also relates to the changing structure
of the electricity market, and that has been more important
than the nuclear safety regulation issue.
There are things that Congress needs to be doing. We need
to get on with the nuclear waste repository. We need to renew
the Price-Anderson Act, we need to restore funds for nuclear
research, and encourage bright students like Ms. MacLean to
choose nuclear engineering as a career, and most of all,
perhaps, we need to ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission remains a credible and effective and vigilant
regulator so that the public can have confidence in the safety
of nuclear powerplants.
In the final analysis, I believe it will be up to the
industry to decide whether to build plants or not. For over 20
years the decision has been not to go ahead with any new
plants. There is evidence that that is changing, and I hope we
can hear some good testimony on that from our witnesses today.
Thank you again for holding the hearing.
Senator Domenici. Thank you, Senator.
Chairman Murkowski. Senator Hagel I believe just stepped
out for a phone call. Senator Landrieu, we have had opening
statements, and we are ready for the witnesses.
STATEMENT OF HON. MARY L. LANDRIEU, U.S. SENATOR
Senator Landrieu. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will just be
brief, but I would like to say that I am glad we are having
this hearing, and I want to commend Senator Domenici
particularly for his leadership and, of course, the chairman
and the ranking member. Senator Domenici has spent a tremendous
amount of time, energy and great passion on this issue. I think
he has taken the right approach to this particular aspect of
energy policy, and I am proud to join him as original cosponsor
of his bill.
I do believe that one of the cornerstones of energy policy
in this Nation must include an increase of domestic supply.
Nuclear serves as one important component of our supply. We
also obviously need to reduce demand, but I think it should be
apparent to everyone that the domestic supply issue as well as
the supply necessary to fuel our electric grid, are crucial.
Senator Domenici, I want to commend you for your good work.
Senator Domenici. Thank you.
Senator Landrieu. I am proud to be a cosponsor of his bill,
and look forward to working with you all. Thank you.
Chairman Murkowski. Senator Domenici.
Senator Domenici. Might I just name the witnesses and give
a little tiny background and then we can proceed, Mr. Chairman.
First, Richard Meserve serves as Chairman of the U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, previously served as legal
counsel for the President's Science and Technology Advisor. I
want to compliment you right now on the work of the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, the last 3 years or so with the
revamping that is taking place, and putting the assets more in
the area of where they were needed. You have done an excellent
job, and I think you should be very proud of the safety that
has ensued, and the increased production that has come along as
a causal relationship to that, so thanks for your work.
Second, Mr. Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize-winning author
of a wide range of books. His articles have appeared
everywhere, from Reader's Digest to Atlantic Playboy. His book,
Nuclear Renewal, is one of the clearest and best calls for a
strong role for nuclear energy. We thank you very much for
being here and for what you have contributed to the dialogue,
Mr. Rhodes. It is must-reading for those who are trying to
understand where we are going.
Third, Corbin McNeill, Jr., chairman and CEO of Exelon
Corporation. You are going to address the panel, and your
company operates the country's largest fleet of nuclear plants.
Fourth is Heather MacLean, currently a graduate student of
nuclear engineering at MIT. Senator Bingaman just alluded to
our hope that we will have more like you. We look forward to
listening to you.
Fifth is James Asselstine, managing director of Lehman
Brothers in New York, who served as a commissioner of the U.S.
Regulatory Commission from 1982 to 1987.
Sixth is Dr. John Ahearne, professor of Duke University,
served as chairman and commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission from 1978 to 1983, and has had many other
So shall we start at that side of table with Richard
STATEMENT OF RICHARD MESERVE, CHAIRMAN,
U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
Mr. Meserve. Chairman Murkowski, Chairman Domenici, members
of the committee, I am very pleased to testify on behalf of the
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on how nuclear energy fits
into a comprehensive energy strategy. I have submitted a
statement for the record, but would like to make a brief
Chairman Murkowski. Your statement will be entered into the
Mr. Meserve. At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the
presence in the audience of two of my fellow Commissioners,
Edward McGaffigan and Jeffrey Merrifield. I very much
appreciated Senator Domenici's kind word, but I must say that I
have had the benefit as Chairman of very capable colleagues on
the Commission, and of very talented staff.
As you know, the Commission does not have a promotional
role for nuclear power. Rather, the agency seeks to ensure the
safe application of nuclear technology, if society elects to
pursue the nuclear energy option.
Many of the commission's initiatives over the past several
years have sought to maintain or enhance safety while
simultaneously improving the efficiency and effectiveness of
our regulatory system. We believe that the Commission's most
recent legislative proposal, which is described in my
statement, would enhance safety and improve our regulatory
system even more.
I am pleased to see that many of our proposals have been
incorporated into proposals now pending before Congress. The
Commission also recognizes that its decisions and actions as a
regulator influences the public's perception of the NRC and
ultimately the public's perception of the safety of nuclear
technology. For this reason, the Commission's primary goals
also include increasing public confidence.
Currently, there are 104 nuclear powerplants licensed by
the Commission to operate in the United States in 31 different
States. As a group, they are operating at high levels of safety
and reliability. These plants have produced approximately 20
percent of our Nation's electricity for the past several years.
In 2000, these nuclear powerplants produced a record 755,000
gigawatt hours of electricity.
The Nation's nuclear electricity generators have worked
over the past 10 years to improve nuclear powerplant
performance, reliability, and efficiency. The improved
performance of U.S. nuclear powerplants since 1990 is
equivalent to placing 23 new 1,000 megawatt powerplants on
line. The Commission has focused on ensuring that safety is not
compromised as a result of these industry efforts.
The nuclear industry is undergoing a period of remarkable
change, as several of the opening statements indicated. One of
the more immediate results of the economic deregulation of the
electric power industry has been the development of a market
for nuclear powerplants as capital assets. As a result, the
Commission has seen a significant increase in the number of
requests for approval of license transfers. These requests have
increased from an historical average of about two or three per
year to 20 to 25 in the past 2 years.
Another result of the new economic conditions is an
increasing interest in license renewal that would allow plants
to operate beyond the original 40-year term. The Commission has
renewed the licenses of five units at two sites, for an
additional 20 years. The thorough reviews of these applications
were completed ahead of schedule. Applications for an
additional five units at three sites are currently under
As indicated by our licensees, many more applications for
renewal are anticipated in the coming years. The Commission
recognizes the importance of license renewal and is committed
to providing high priority attention to this effort.
In recent years, the Commission has approved numerous
license amendments to permit licensees to make power increases
or up-rates. Typically, these increases have been approximately
2 to 7 percent. These up-rates in the aggregate have resulted
in adding approximately 2,000 megawatts to the grid.
The NRC is now reviewing five license amendment requests
for larger power up-rates. These requests are for boiling water
reactors and are up-rates of 15 to 20 percent. While the staff
has not received requests for additional up-rates beyond these
five, some estimates indicate that as many as 22 boiling water
reactors may request such up-rates. These up-rates, if allowed,
could add approximately 3,000 to 4,500 megawatts.
In addition to the three already-certified advanced reactor
designs, there are new nuclear powerplant technologies, such as
the pebble bed modular reactor, which some believe can provide
enhanced safety, improved efficiency, lower cost, as well as
other benefits. To ensure that the Commission staff is prepared
to evaluate any applications to introduce these advanced
reactors, the Commission recently directed the staff to assess
the capabilities that would be necessary to review an
application for new construction. An examination of possible
changes in our rules is also underway.
In order to confirm the safety of new reactor designs and
technology, the Commission believes that a strong nuclear
research program should be maintained. Additionally, the
Commission is reviewing its human capital to assure that the
appropriate professional staff is available for the Commission
to fulfill its safety mission, as well as any new regulatory
responsibilities in the area of licensing new reactor designs.
The Commission has long been and will continue to be active
in concentrating its staff's efforts to achieve our statutory
mandate. We are also mindful of the need to reduce unnecessary
burdens, to maintain open communications with all our
stakeholders, to continue to encourage our staff to strive for
increased efficiency and effectiveness.
I look forward to working with the committees, and I
welcome your comments and questions. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Meserve follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF RICHARD MESERVE, CHAIRMAN, U.S. NUCLEAR
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committees, I am pleased to submit
this testimony on behalf of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) on how nuclear energy fits into a comprehensive energy strategy.
As you know, the Commission's mission is to ensure the adequate
protection of public health and safety, the common defense and
security, and the environment in the application of nuclear technology
for civilian use. The Commission does not have a promotional role--
rather, the Agency seeks to ensure the safe application of nuclear
technology if society elects to pursue the nuclear energy option.
The Commission recognizes, however, that its regulatory system
should not establish inappropriate impediments to the application of
nuclear technology. Many of the Commission's initiatives over the past
several years have sought to maintain or enhance safety while
simultaneously improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our
regulatory system. We believe the Commission's most recent legislative
proposals would enhance safety and improve our regulatory system even
further and are pleased to see that many of our proposals have been
incorporated into the bills before this Committee. The Commission also
recognizes that its decisions and actions as a regulator influence the
public's perception of the NRC and ultimately the public's perception
of the safety of nuclear technology. For this reason, the Commission's
primary performance goals also include increasing public confidence.
Currently, there are 104 nuclear power plants licensed by the
Commission to operate in the United States in 31 different states. As a
group, they are operating at high levels of safety and reliability.
(See Charts on Attachments 1 and 2.) \1\
\1\ Attachments 1-3 have been retained in committee files.
These plants have produced approximately 20% of our nation's
electricity for the past several years and are operated by about 40
different companies. In 2000, these nuclear power plants produced a
record 755 thousand gigawatt-hours of electricity. (See Graph on
Improved Licensee Efficiencies (Increased Capacity Factors)
The Nation's nuclear electricity generators have worked over the
past 10 years to improve nuclear power plant performance, reliability,
and efficiency. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the improved
performance of the U.S. nuclear power plants since 1990 is equivalent
to placing 23 new 1000 MWe power plants on line. The average capacity
factor for U.S. light water reactors was 88 percent in 2000, up from 63
percent in 1989.\2\ (See Table on Attachment 3.) The Commission has
focused on ensuring that safety is not compromised as a result of these
industry efforts. The Commission seeks to carry out its regulatory
responsibilities in an effective and efficient manner so as not to
impede industry initiatives inappropriately.
\2\ Capacity factor is the ratio of electricity generated, for the
period of time considered, to the amount of energy that could have been
generated at continuous full-power operation during the same period.
Electric Industry Restructuring
As you are aware, the nuclear industry is undergoing a period of
remarkable change. The industry is in a period of transition in several
dimensions, probably experiencing more rapid change than in any other
period in the history of civilian nuclear power. As deregulation of
electricity generation proceeds, the Commission is seeing significant
restructuring among the licensees and the start of the consolidation of
nuclear generating capacity among a smaller group of operating
companies. This change is due, in part, to an industry that has
achieved gains in both economic and safety performance over the past
decade and thus is able to take advantage of the opportunities
presented by industry restructuring.
INITIATIVES IN THE AREA OF CURRENT REACTOR REGULATION
One of the more immediate results of the economic deregulation of
the electric power industry has been the development of a market for
nuclear power plants as capital assets. As a result, the Commission has
seen a significant increase in the number of requests for approval of
license transfers. These requests have increased from an historical
average of about two or three per year, to 20-25 in the past two years.
The Commission seeks to ensure that our reviews of license transfer
applications, which focus on adequate protection of public health and
safety, are conducted efficiently. These reviews sometimes require a
significant expenditure of staff resources to ensure a high quality and
timely result. Our legislative proposal to eliminate foreign ownership
review could help to further streamline the process. To date, the
Commission believes that it has been timely in these transfers. For
example, in CY 2000, the staff reviewed and approved transfers in
periods ranging from four to eight months, depending on the complexity
of the applications. The Commission will strive to continue to perform
at this level of proficiency even in the face of continued demand.
Another result of the new economic conditions is an increasing
interest in license renewal that would allow plants to operate beyond
the original 40-year term. That term, which was established in the
Atomic Energy Act (AEA), did not reflect a limitation that was
determined by engineering or scientific considerations, but rather was
based on financial and antitrust concerns. The Commission now has the
technical bases and experience on which to make judgments about the
potential useful life and safe operation of facilities and is
addressing the question of extensions beyond the original 40-year term.
The focus of the Commission's review of applications is on
maintaining plant safety, with the primary concern directed at the
effects of aging on important systems, structures, and components.
Applicants must demonstrate that they have identified and can manage
the effects of aging so as to maintain an acceptable level of safety
during the period of extended operation.
The Commission has now renewed the licenses of plants at two sites
for an additional 20 years: Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, and Oconee in
South Carolina, comprising a total of five units. The thorough reviews
of these applications were completed ahead of schedule, which is
indicative of the care exercised by licensees in the preparation of the
applications and the planning and dedication of the Commission staff.
Applications for units from three additional sites--Hatch in Georgia,
ANO-1 in Arkansas, and Turkey Point in Florida--are currently under
review. As indicated by our licensees, many more applications for
renewal are anticipated in the coming years.
Although the Commission has met or exceeded the projected schedules
for the first reviews, it would like the renewal process to become as
effective and efficient as possible. The extent to which the Commission
is able to sustain or improve on our performance depends on the rate at
which applications are actually received, the quality of the
applications, and the ability to staff the review effort. The
Commission recognizes the importance of license renewal and is
committed to providing high-priority attention to this effort. As you
know, the Commission encourages early notification by licensees, in
advance of their applications to seek renewals, in order to allow
adequate planning of demands on staff resources. The Commission is
committed to maintaining the quality of its safety reviews.
Reactor Plant Power Uprates
In recent years, the Commission has approved numerous license
amendments that permit licensees to make relatively small power
increases or uprates. Typically, these increases have been
approximately 2% to 7%. These uprates, in the aggregate, resulted in
adding approximately 2000 MWe or two new 1000 MWe power plants.
The NRC is now reviewing five license amendment requests for larger
power uprates. These requests are for Boiling Water Reactors (BWR's)
and are for uprates of 15% to 20%. (There are two primary designs for
operating light water reactors: Boiling Water Reactors and Pressurized
Water Reactors.) While the staff has not received requests for
additional uprates beyond these five, some estimates indicate that as
many as 22 BWR'S may request uprates in the 15% to 20% range. These
uprates, if allowed, could add approximately 3,000 to 4,500 MWe to the
Approvals for uprates are granted only after a thorough evaluation
by NRC staff to ensure safe operation of the plants at the higher
power. Plant changes and modifications are necessary to support a large
power uprate, and thus require significant financial investment by the
licensee. While the NRC does not know the number of uprate requests
that will be received, the staff is evaluating ways to streamline the
review and approval process. As with license renewals, the Commission
encourages early notification by licensees, in advance of their
applications for uprates, in order to allow adequate planning of
demands on staff resources.
High Level Waste Storage/Disposal (Spent Fuel Storage)
In the past several years, the Commission has responded to numerous
requests to approve spent fuel cask designs and independent spent fuel
storage installations for onsite dry storage of spent fuel. These
actions have provided an interim approach pending implementation of a
program for the long-term disposition of spent fuel. The ability of the
Commission to review and approve these requests has provided the needed
additional onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel, thereby avoiding plant
shutdowns as spent fuel pools reach their capacity. The Commission
anticipates that the current lack of a final disposal site will result
in a large increase in on-site dry storage capacity during this decade.
The Commission is currently reviewing an application for an
Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation on the reservation of the
Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians in Utah.
Certain matters also need to be resolved in order to make progress
on a deep geologic repository for disposal of spent nuclear fuel. The
Energy Policy Act of 1992 requires the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) to promulgate general standards to govern the site, while the
Commission has the obligation to implement those standards through its
licensing and regulatory process. The Commission has concerns about
certain aspects of EPA's proposed approach and is working with EPA to
resolve these issues. Some of our legislative proposals would eliminate
Risk-Informing the Commission's Regulatory Framework
The Commission also is in a period of dynamic change as the Agency
moves from a prescriptive, deterministic approach toward a more risk-
informed and performance-based regulatory paradigm. Improved
probabilistic risk assessment techniques combined with more than four
decades of accumulated experience with operating nuclear power reactors
has led the Commission to recognize that some regulations may not serve
their intended safety purpose and may not be necessary to provide
adequate protection of public health and safety. Where that is the
case, the Commission has determined it should revise or eliminate the
requirements. On the other hand, the Commission is prepared to
strengthen our regulatory system where risk considerations reveal the
Perhaps the most visible aspect of the Commission's efforts to
risk-inform its regulatory framework is the new reactor oversight
process. The process was initiated on a pilot basis in 1999 and fully
implemented in April 2000. The new process was developed to focus
inspection effort on those areas involving greater risk to the plant
and thus to workers and the public, while simultaneously providing a
more objective and transparent process. Although the Commission
continues to work with its stakeholders to assess the effectiveness of
the revised oversight process, the feedback received from industry and
the public is favorable.
Scheduling and Organizational Assumptions Associated With New Reactor
While improved performance of operating nuclear power plants has
resulted in significant increases in electrical output, significant
increased demands for electricity will need to be addressed by
construction of new generating capacity of some type. Serious industry
interest in new construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S. has
only recently emerged. As you know, the Commission has already
certified three new reactor designs pursuant to 10 CFR Part 52. These
designs include General Electric's advanced boiling water reactor,
Westinghouse's AP-600 and Combustion Engineering's System 80+. Because
the Commission has certified these designs, a new plant order may
include one of these approved designs. However, the staff is also
conducting a preliminary review associated with other new designs.
Licensees have also indicated to the NRC that applications for early
site permits could be submitted in the near future. These permits would
allow pre-certification of sites for possible construction of nuclear
In addition to the three already certified advanced reactor
designs, there are new nuclear power plant technologies, such as the
Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which some believe can provide enhanced
safety, improved efficiency, and lower costs, as well as other
benefits. To ensure that the Commission staff is prepared to evaluate
any applications to introduce these advanced nuclear reactors, the
Commission recently directed the staff to assess the technical,
licensing, and inspection capabilities that would be necessary to
review an application for an early site permit, a license application,
or construction permit for a new reactor unit. This will include the
capability to review the designs for Generation III+ or Generation IV
light water reactors, including the Westinghouse AP-1000, the Pebble
Bed Modular Reactor, General Atomics' Gas Turbine Modular Helium
Reactor, and the International Reactor Innovative and Secure (IRIS)
designs. In addition to assessing its capability to review the new
designs, the Commission will also examine its regulations relating to
license applications, such as 10 CFR Parts 50 and 52, in order to
identify whether any enhancements are necessary. We also recently
established the Future Licensing Project Organization in order to
prepare for and manage future reactor and site licensing applications.
In order to confirm the safety of new reactor designs and
technology, the Commission believes that a strong nuclear research
program should be maintained. A comprehensive evaluation of the
Commission's research program is underway with assistance from a group
of outside experts and from the Advisory Committee on Reactor
Safeguards. With the benefit of these insights, the Commission expects
to undertake measures to strengthen our research program over the
Linked to these technical and regulatory assessments, the
Commission is reviewing its human capital to assure that the
appropriate professional staff is available for the Commission to
fulfill its traditional safety mission, as well as any new regulatory
responsibilities in the area of licensing new reactor designs.
In some mission critical offices within the Commission, nearly 25
percent of the staff are eligible to retire today. In fact, the
Commission has six times as many staff over the age of 60 as it has
staff under 30.
And, as with many Federal agencies, it is becoming increasingly
difficult for the Commission to hire personnel with the knowledge,
skills, and abilities to conduct the safety reviews, licensing,
research, and oversight actions that are essential to our safety
mission. Moreover, the number of individuals with the technical skills
critical to the achievement of the Commission's safety mission is
rapidly declining in the Nation, and the educational system is not
replacing them. The Commission's staff has taken initial steps to
address this situation, and as a result, is now seeking systematically
to identify future staffing needs and to develop strategies to address
the gaps. It is apparent, however, that the maintenance of a
technically competent staff will require substantial effort for an
extended time. The various Senate energy bills properly give attention
to such matters. The Commission would be pleased to offer some further
suggestions in the same vein.
The Commission is currently challenged to meet its existing
workload with available resources; nevertheless, the NRC, with its
current budget, can continue to carry out its mission to protect health
and safety, to promote the common defense and security, and to protect
the environment. However, additional resources will be necessary to
respond to increased workloads which could result from some of the
initiatives discussed in this testimony or proposed in pending
The Commission has identified in its legislative proposals areas
where new legislation would be helpful to eliminate artificial
restrictions and to reduce the uncertainty in the licensing process.
These changes would maintain safety while increasing flexibility in
decision-making. Although those changes would have little or no
immediate impact on electrical supply, they would help establish the
context for consideration of nuclear power by the private sector
without any compromise of public health and safety or protection of the
Legislation will be needed to extend the Price-Anderson Act.
The Act, which expires on August 1, 2002, establishes a
framework that provides assurance that adequate funds are
available in the event of a nuclear accident and sets out the
process for consideration of nuclear claims. Without the
framework provided by the Act, private-sector participation in
nuclear power would be discouraged by the risk of large
Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 could be revised to provide
the Commission with the sole responsibility to establish all
generally applicable standards related to Atomic Energy Act
(AEA) materials, thereby avoiding dual regulation of such
matters by other agencies. Along these same lines, the Nuclear
Waste Policy Act of 1982 could be amended to provide the
Commission with the sole authority to establish standards for
high-level radioactive waste disposal. These changes would
serve to provide full protection of public health and safety,
provide consistency, and avoid needless and duplicative
Commission antitrust reviews of new reactor licenses could
also be eliminated. As a result of the growth of Federal
antitrust law since the passage of the AEA, the Commission's
antitrust reviews are redundant of the reviews of other
agencies. The requirement for Commission review of such
matters, which are distant from the Commission's central
expertise, should be eliminated.
Elimination of the ban on foreign ownership of U.S. nuclear
plants would be an enhancement since many of the entities that
are involved in electrical generation have foreign
participants, thereby making the ban on foreign ownership
increasingly problematic. The Commission has authority to deny
a license that would be inimical to the common defense and
security, and thus an outright ban on all foreign ownership is
With the strong Congressional interest in examining energy policy,
the Commission is optimistic that there will be a legislative vehicle
for making these changes and thereby for updating the AEA. Indeed, we
note that certain of these matters are included in bills now before
The Commission has long been, and will continue to be, active in
concentrating its staffs' efforts on ensuring the adequate protection
of public health and safety, the common defense and security, and the
environment in the application of nuclear technology for civilian use.
Those statutory mandates notwithstanding, the Commission is mindful of
the need to: (1) reduce unnecessary burdens, so as not to
inappropriately inhibit any renewed interest in nuclear power; (2)
maintain open communications with all of its stakeholders, in order to
seek to ensure the full, fair, and timely consideration of issues that
are brought to our attention; and (3) continue to encourage its highly
qualified staff to strive for increased efficiency and effectiveness,
both internally and in our dealings with all of the Commission's
I look forward to working with the Committees, and I welcome your
comments and questions.
Senator Domenici. Mr. Corbin McNeill.
STATEMENT OF CORBIN A. McNEILL, JR., CHAIRMAN &
CO-CEO, EXELON CORPORATION, CHICAGO, IL
Mr. McNeill. Thank you very much, Senator. I am Corbin A.
McNeill, Jr., and I am chairman and co-chief executive officer
of Exelon Corporation, and president of our subsidiary, Exelon
There are five key messages that I would like to leave with
you today. First and foremost is that the state of the industry
today is very sound and, as Chairman Meserve has noted, today's
reactors are operating at record levels of safety, output,
competitive cost, and reliability.
Second, the outlook for the existing fleet of nuclear
plants is excellent, and current plants can be expected to
produce more electricity through increased efficiency and
Third, there is a critical shortage of generating capacity
in the United States. The new nuclear plants can play a role in
meeting our Nation's growing demand for environmentally clean
Fourth, there are a number of new advanced nuclear
technologies that have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, and other new designs are on the horizon, including
the new pebble bed modular reactor, which Exelon believes can
provide future generation safely, economically and cleanly.
And lastly, that there are several outdated legislative and
regulatory requirements that should be modernized to reflect
the new deregulated marketplace in which future nuclear plants
will be built.
Rather than spending time reviewing the state of the
industry at this point, and I have done that in my written
statement, let me jump right to a discussion of the future of
nuclear energy. For the current fleet of reactors, I see three
trends that are continuing into the near future. First,
increased output from existing plants, a gradual consolidation
of plant ownership and operation, and the application for
renewal of existing operating licenses.
Electric generation from the current fleet of nuclear
reactors is likely to increase as a result of higher capacity
factors and plant up-rates, which Commissioner Meserve
highlighted. Exelon Nuclear alone plans to add approximately
1,000 megawatts, or nearly one new plant of new capacity over
the next 3 years through up-rates, and NEI, the Nuclear Energy
Institute predicts that the industry will add 8,000 to 12,000
megawatts of new capacity over the next several years.
The consolidation trend of the industry has seen in recent
years is also likely to continue, though at a slower pace than
we have seen in the recent past. While two utilities have
announced their intention to auction plants later this year,
most of the consolidation that will occur in the future will be
likely through mergers and acquisitions of entire utilities.
Finally, despite earlier predictions by the NRC, the Energy
Information Administration, and others, most industry observers
predict that the vast majority of the Nation's 103 operating
plants will apply for license extensions rather than be shut
down, as predicted.
As for new plants, I would note that the DOE estimates that
the United States will need to construct more than 1,300 new
powerplants over the next 20 years to meet future demand for
electricity and, as these new plants are built, it is
critically important that there be a diversity of energy
sources to include nuclear.
Senator Domenici. What are the size of those plants?
Mr. McNeill. I do not know exactly what the size is. I
would say that it is probably in the 600 to 800 megawatt range,
because that is the typical range size that is being
New nuclear plants will have to possess three
characteristics to be acceptable. They must be safe, economic,
and clean. The pebble bed modular reactor, a design under
development in South Africa, possesses these characteristics
and, I believe, answers every criticism of the technology, with
the exception of nuclear waste storage, which is an issue that
I even have more confidence that Senator Murkowski will see a
major jump by this time next year in acceleration and its
movement toward identifying Yucca Mountain.
The PBMR technology uses a ceramic fuel design that cannot
suffer meltdown. In the PBMR, through physical characteristics
of the design, the reactor temperature never rises above 1,600
degrees Centigrade, even under the worst case loss of coolant
accident, and the PBMR fuel, however, does not even begin to
degrade until temperatures reach about 2,000 degrees
As a small modular reactor, in the 110 to 125 megawatt
range, the PBMR is well-suited for use in deregulated power
markets. Capital costs of each PBMR module are expected to be a
fraction of the costs of the current larger reactors, roughly
$125 to $150 million for 125-megawatt plant, which
significantly reduces the investment risk for the builder of
PBMR's can be built in 18 to 24 months, and the speed of
the market is essential if the PBMR is to compete effectively
with coal and natural gas plants in a deregulated environment.
Timely licensing action will be necessary to take advantage of
the shorter construction time.
Adding small increments of capacity which better match new
supply with demand growth prevents an oversupply situation,
volatility of electricity pricing in the marketplace, and
allows quicker recovery of the capital cost and, like our
current nuclear reactors, the PBMR will emit no air pollutants
or greenhouse gases.
We are developing the PBMR on the following time line. This
summer, we will complete the detailed feasibility study. By
November, we will, in conjunction with the rest of the
investors, make a decision whether to build a demonstration
plant in South Africa. In early 2002, we would contemplate
early site licensing in the United States, and by late 2002 or
early 2003, application for a combined construction and
Many legal and regulatory requirements that we run into are
really outdated. Two categories of these that should be
addressed as a result of that fact are, first, that new nuclear
plants will be merchant plants operating in a deregulated
environment, and the PBMR is a small, modular reactor that
produces roughly one-tenth of the power of a conventional 1,100
megawatt light water reactor, and two important issues must be
resolved in conjunction with first, the Price-Anderson Act,
which will expire in 2002 must be renewed, and the Federal
Government must assure the existence of a competitive nuclear
The smaller size of these plants also requires that
consideration be given in the relicensing of the Price-Anderson
Act, consideration so that they do not bear the same burden,
but they have a proportionate burden for other reactors of
larger size in the payments under Price-Anderson if it was ever
Also, while the development of the design of the PBMR is
being done on a commercial basis buy the partners, it would be
appropriate for some level of Government funding to be provided
for first of a kind costs incurred by the NRC in developing the
staff necessary for this new technology, and as a result of the
unproven nature of the 10 CFR part 52 licensing process and the
need to create a new process for the gas reactor.
Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss this issue,
and I look forward to questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. McNeill follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF CORBIN A. MCNEILL, JR., CHAIRMAN & CO-CEO,
EXELON CORPORATION, CHICAGO, IL
Chairman Murkowski, Chairman Domenici, and Members of the Committee
I am Corbin A. McNeill, Jr., and I am Chairman and Co-Chief
Executive Officer of Exelon Corporation and President of Exelon
Generation Company. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you
today to discuss the state of the nuclear energy industry and the role
that nuclear power can play in meeting America's future energy needs.
Exelon Corporation was formed last year by the merger of Unicom
Corporation of Chicago and PECO Energy Company of Philadelphia. Exelon
is the holding company for three wholly-owned subsidiaries: Exelon
Energy Delivery, which includes Commonwealth Edison and PECO Energy,
two distribution companies providing electric service in Northern
Illinois and electric and natural gas service in Southeastern
Pennsylvania, respectively; Exelon Enterprises, which owns a host of
unregulated businesses involved in energy and infrastructure services,
broadband and telecommunications services, and other ventures; and
Exelon Generation Company.
Exelon Generation currently owns and operates approximately 37,000
megawatts of diversified electrical generation, including 17 nuclear
reactors which generate 16,970 megawatts of electricity. We have
another 8,500 megawatts of non-nuclear generation under construction or
development. Exelon is the largest nuclear operator in the country,
with approximately 20% of the nation's nuclear generation capacity, and
the third largest private nuclear operator in the world. AmerGen Energy
is a partnership between Exelon Generation and British Energy of
Edinburgh, Scotland that was created to purchase nuclear power plants
in the United States. AmerGen currently owns and operates nuclear
plants in Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
In my testimony today, I want to provide you with five key
The state of the nuclear industry is sound. Reactors are
operating at record levels of safety, output, and reliability.
The outlook for the existing fleet of nuclear plants is
excellent, and current plants can be expected to produce more
electricity through increased efficiency and capacity uprates.
There is a critical shortage of generating capacity in the
United States, and new nuclear plants can play a role in
narrowing the gap between supply and demand.
There are a number of new nuclear technologies that have
been approved by the NRC and others that are on the horizon,
including the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which Exelon believes
can provide future generation safely, economically, and
There are several outdated legislative and regulatory
requirements that must be modernized to reflect the new
deregulated marketplace in which future nuclear plants will be
STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
In assessing the state of the commercial nuclear industry today, I
am pleased to report that the industry is operating at extraordinarily
high levels by any measure of performance.
No other source of energy receives the scrutiny that nuclear power
does. The nuclear industry is held to the highest standards of
operation by regulators, legislators, investors, the media, and the
general public. The industry has been required to produce power safer,
cheaper, and cleaner than any other source of baseload electric
generation in order to gain public acceptance. This has presented the
industry with enormous challenges, but the industry has successfully
embraced and met these challenges.
In fact, the industry has held itself to the highest standards of
operation. In 1980, the industry established the Institute of Nuclear
Power Operations (INPO) to allow the industry to provide internal
assessments of power plant performance and to share operational best
I have included as an attachment to my written testimony the most
recent report by INPO that outlines the industry's achievement as
judged against 10 separate goals for industry performance. For each of
the 10 performance indicator goals set by INPO in 1995, the industry
has met or exceeded the performance goals for the year 2000.*
* The report has been retained in committee files.
Let me provide a brief overview of the industry's performance in
five major areas.
Safety. The nuclear industry remains deeply committed to operating
our reactors in a manner that protects the health and safety of both
the public and our workers. The industry today is operating at an
extraordinarily high level of safety, having exceeded the INPO
performance targets by over 10 percent for safety system readiness,
collective radiation exposure of employees, and industrial safety
accident rate. At one time, critics of nuclear power argued that
reactor operators in a deregulated marketplace would be pressured to
cut corners on safety in pursuit of greater economic return. The
industry's record, however, has proven that safety and operational
excellence go hand-in-hand.
Economics. In economics, too, the industry is performing at
unprecedented levels. For the first time in a decade, production costs
for nuclear power are lower than those for coal. Nuclear production
costs in 1999 were 1.83 cents/kWh; production costs for coal were 2.07
cents/kWh; for gas, 3.52 cents/kWh (even prior to gas price spikes);
for oil, 3.18 cents/kWh. An existing well-managed nuclear power plant
can produce electricity at an all-in cost of less than 2.5 cents/kWh.
This cost compares to combined cycle gas plants at 3.5-4.5 cents/kWh,
assuming a gas price of $3 to $4 per million BTUs.
Reliability and Operational Excellence. Closely related to
economics is the area of reliability and operational excellence. The
industry is operating plants at record high capacity factors, achieving
an industry-wide average of over 91 percent capacity during 2000. As a
result, the nuclear industry is generating more electricity than at any
time in the past, even though there are fewer operating reactors today
than there were just a few years ago. In the last decade, the nuclear
industry has added the equivalent of 23 new 1,000 megawatt plants
through increased output from the current reactor fleet. These gains
have come not only from increased capacity factors, but also from
capacity additions at existing plants through power uprates. According
to INPO's 2000 Performance Indicator report, unplanned capability loss
factors, unplanned automatic scrams, thermal performance, and fuel
reliability indicators all show record performance as well.
Environmental Performance. No other baseload energy source is as
efficient at limiting and containing the amount of pollution it
generates. Nuclear plants emit no pollutants or greenhouse gases into
the air. Nuclear plants are playing a key role in allowing many areas
of the country to meet clean air requirements mandated by the
Environmental Protection Agency, and Vice President, Richard Cheney is
among the policymakers worldwide who have publicly recognized the
importance of nuclear energy in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide
and greenhouse gases. In a major energy policy speech earlier this
week, in fact, Vice President Cheney referred to nuclear power as ``the
cleanest method of power generation that we know.''
Nuclear reactors also emit no pollutants into the water beyond
thermal discharge. And while some solid wastes from nuclear plants
contain long-lived radioactive elements, these wastes are stored,
transported, and disposed of safely in a manner that isolates the waste
from the public and the environment. Since 1980, the volume of solid
low-level radioactive waste generated by nuclear reactors has decreased
an astounding 94% at boiling water reactors and 96% at pressurized
water reactors. As for spent fuel, the industry continues to store this
material safely onsite, either in spent fuel pools or in dry cask
storage. The federal government has failed in its obligation to begin
removing spent fuel from reactor sites by 1998. While the Department of
Energy (DOE) appears to be making progress in their investigation of
Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository for spent fuel, the federal
government must work to meet its obligation in a more timely manner.
Public Acceptance. A natural result of the industry's strong
performance is an increase in the level of public acceptance of nuclear
energy. Recent surveys by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the
Associated Press indicate that the public is increasingly supportive of
nuclear power. Interestingly, last month's Associated Press poll found
that 55 percent of those who support nuclear power would support a new
plant within 10 miles of their home. Recent NEI surveys also show that
acceptance of new nuclear plants is increasing, particularly in the
Policymakers, the media, and the public itself often fail to give
people enough credit for being able to make an informed decision about
nuclear power. When surveyed, many people who support nuclear power
believe that their neighbors do not. Yet, surveys consistently show
that a majority of the public has a favorable opinion of nuclear power.
Public acceptance presents perhaps the biggest challenge for the
nuclear industry in that we can only indirectly influence how the
public perceives the industry. Countering inaccurate and reckless
statements from the anti-nuclear community takes an enormous amount of
FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY--CURRENT REACTORS
It will come as no surprise that I believe that the nuclear energy
industry has an exceptionally bright future. For the current fleet of
reactors, I see three trends continuing in the near future: increased
output of electricity from existing nuclear reactors, a gradual
consolidation of plant ownership and operations, and applications for
the renewal of existing operating licenses.
Electric generation from the current fleet of nuclear reactors is
likely to increase as a result of higher capacity factors and plant
uprates. As strong as the performance of the current fleet of nuclear
plants is today, capacity factors can increase further as the industry
continues to share best practices among plants. In fact, I think that
this is a trend that we will see not just in the United States, but
worldwide as well. While plants are nearing their maximum capacity
factors, plants can produce additional electricity by uprating units to
increase their maximum capacity. The Chairman of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee recently noted in a letter to NRC Chairman Meserve
that there are 14 license applications pending at the NRC for power
uprates which would add over 1,000 megawatts of new capacity. Exelon
Nuclear plans to add approximately 1,000 megawatts of new capacity over
the next three years through uprates at our existing plants. Some
industry analysts believe that a total of 8,000 to 12,000 megawatts of
additional generation can be gained if uprates were sought by the
current fleet of reactors.
The consolidation trend that the industry has seen in recent years
is also likely to continue, though at a slower pace than we have seen
in the past. Since 1998, nearly two dozen reactors have changed hands
through utility mergers and acquisitions, the sale or auction of
individual plants, and the formation of nuclear operating companies.
While two utilities have announced their intention to auction plants
later this year, most of the consolidation that will occur in the
future is likely to be through mergers and acquisitions.
A final trend affecting the current fleet of reactors deals with
plant life extension through license renewals. As recently as 1997, the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimated that only a fraction of
currently operating reactors would seek to extend their operating
licenses. Predictions by the Energy Information Administration (EIA)
were even more dire, with EIA estimating that 58 reactors would cease
operation between 1996 and 2015. The improved economic performance of
plants, combined with a recognition of the clean air compliance value
of emissions-free generation, have led the NRC and EIA to reexamine
those estimates. Today, most observers, including NRC Chairman Richard
Meserve, predict that the vast majority of the nation's current 103
operating plants will apply for 20-year license extensions.
future of the industry--new plants
The demand for electricity in the United States is growing rapidly.
The DOE estimates that electricity demand will grow by 45 percent over
the next 20 years. Based on that estimate, the U.S. will need more than
1,300 new power plants--65 a year--to meet that demand. It is
significant to note that it was over 15 years ago when 65 plants were
last built in a single year in the United States.
As these new plants are built, it is critically important that
there is a diversity of energy sources. One of the reasons California
is having such difficulty is that they depend too much on natural gas
as the fuel for electric generation. New plants cannot just operate on
natural gas, but must also include coal hydro, solar, wind, and yes,
New nuclear plants will have to be safe, economic, and clean to be
acceptable to legislators, regulators, investors, and the public.
Safe. Any new nuclear technology must be passively or inherently
safe. Given the importance of public opinion in the siting of any new
industrial facility, any new nuclear plant should exhibit such safety
features, and the new reactor technologies certified by the NRC
incorporate many passive design features.
Economics. Of course, any new reactor technology must be
economically competitive with other generation sources. In the newly
deregulated marketplace, however, it is also important for any new
technology to have a low capital cost, to have short construction lead
times, and to be of relatively small size so as not to disrupt the
economics of the regional market the plant is built to serve.
Clean. New reactor technologies must also have a minimal impact on
The industry is working together to lay the groundwork for new
nuclear plants. The NRC has certified three new advanced reactor
designs after conducting extensive, multi-year safety reviews. Of the
three new certified designs, two have been built and are setting world-
class performance records in Japan, and additional reactors are being
built in Korea and Taiwan. Two additional advanced designs are expected
to be submitted to the NRC in the near future for approval.
THE PEBBLE BED MODULAR REACTOR
Exelon Corporation believes that we have found a technology that
possesses the characteristics necessary to successfully compete in a
deregulated environment in the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), a
design under development in South Africa. Exelon is a partner in the
PBMR project with Eskom, the state-owned utility in South Africa; the
Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, a state-owned
investment firm; and BNFL, the former British Nuclear Fuels Limited.
The PBMR technology is an evolutionary improvement of a proven design
previously utilized in Germany. Let me explain.
Safe. The Pebble Bed technology relies on a ceramic fuel design
that cannot suffer meltdown. Fuel melting is the primary safety concern
related to current light water reactor technology. In the PBMR, the
reactor temperature never rises above 1600 degrees Celsius, even under
a worst-case loss of coolant accident. PBMR fuel, however, does not
begin to degrade until temperatures reach 2000 degrees Celsius.
Economic. As a small (110-125 megawatt) modular reactor, the PBMR
is well-suited for use in a deregulated power market.
Low Capital Cost: Capital costs for each PBMR module are
expected to be a fraction of the cost of current reactors--
roughly $125 to $150 million for a 125 MW plant--thus
decreasing investment risk. At $1,100 per kilowatt to
construct, the PBMR can be competitive with other energy
Speed to Market: We estimate that the PBMR can be built in
18 to 24 months, as opposed to 48 to 72 months or more for
large reactors. Speed to market is essential if the PBMR is to
compete effectively with coal and natural gas-fired plants in a
deregulated market. Of course, the construction timeframe does
not include the time necessary to receive regulatory approvals
for building the plant. Timely licensing action will be
necessary to take advantage of the quick construction time.
Small Size: Adding small increments of new capacity to
electric markets will better match new electric supply with
demand growth, thus preventing an oversupply of electricity and
allowing a quicker recovery of the capital costs.
Clean. Like current nuclear reactors, PBMR reactors will emit no
air pollutants or greenhouse gases, and since the PBMR is a more
efficient reactor, the plant uses a fraction of the water used by
conventional light water reactors. This lack of reliance on water may
also enable the PBMR to be sited in locations that are not suitable for
light water reactors.
The PBMR project is currently in its preliminary stage, with a
detailed study of the design being conducted by an international team
of experts. The study is due to be completed this summer. If the
technology is deemed ready for commercialization, and if the economics
prove to be competitive against other forms of generation, the partners
will proceed to build a demonstration plant in South Africa near Cape
Town. We estimate that construction of the plant will take 36 months,
with a 12-month testing period following the completion of
If Exelon's review of the feasibility study is favorable, we intend
to begin the licensing process to build a number of PBMRs in the U.S.
as soon as next year. Our current business plan calls for the
submission of a license application for early site permitting in 2002,
followed by an application for a combined construction and operating
license in 2003, after the detailed design is completed in South
Of course, a number of legal and regulatory issues must be
addressed before a pebble bed reactor can be built in the United
States. Most of these issues fall into one of two categories: the first
category results from the fact that new nuclear plants would be
merchant plants operating in a deregulated environment; the second
category results from the fact that the PBMR is a small, modular
reactor that produces roughly one-tenth of the power of a conventional
1,100 megawatt light water reactor.
The current NRC regulations were promulgated when it was
anticipated that only regulated electric utilities would build nuclear
plants. These regulations did not foresee the dawn of a deregulated
power generation market and are now obsolete. If Exelon builds a PBMR,
it will be a merchant nuclear power plant that will not be in a
regulated utility rate structure. The financial risk of the plant will
rest on the shareholder, not the ratepayer. If these outdated
regulations are not changed, the financial burden imposed on merchant
plants clearly has the potential to make the economics untenable. Some
of the key regulations that need to be addressed include the financial
protection requirements of 10 CFR Part 140, the decommissioning funding
requirements of 10 CFR Part 50.75, and the antitrust review
requirements of 10 CFR Part 50.33a.
The PBMR would similarly be disadvantaged by current regulations
because of its small size. For example, the Price-Anderson Act should
be amended to treat Pebble Bed Modular Reactors in a manner that
recognizes the inequity of treating individual PBMR modules as separate
facilities. Under the current NRC interpretation of Price-Anderson, a
10-module, 1,100 megawatt PBMR site would have 10 times the potential
retroactive liability of a single 1,100 megawatt light water reactor.
Similarly, the annual fees assessed on a per reactor basis under 10 CFR
Part 171 should be revised to recognize the disparity between a 110 125
megawatt PBMR and a much larger light water reactor. The large
emergency planning zone requirements in 10 CFR Part 50.47 should also
be revisited given the fundamental safety differences between a PBMR
and current reactors.
In addition to the above regulations, the licensing process which
we would follow under 10 CFR Part 52 to obtain a combined construction
and operating license for these plants has never been utilized. As a
result, we expect that there will be a steep learning curve for both
the NRC staff and ourselves on how to execute this process with
resultant high costs and delays. We will also need to work with the NRC
staff to develop the technical licensing framework for the PBMR as the
existing regulations are written for light water reactors. Regulations
will need to be developed for gas reactors, also at additional costs
and potential delay.
Exelon believes strongly that the development of the design and the
cost to commercialize and build the PBMR should be borne by the PBMR
partners. We anticipate that the partners will invest upwards of $600
million of their own money to make the PBMR commercially viable with
Exelon investing a significant additional amount to license and build
the first PBMRs. There are, however, a number of first of a kind costs
that Exelon will bear as the first licensee for this new technology
that will flow directly to government agencies such as the NRC in the
form of licensing fees and the national laboratories as consultants to
the NRC. As stated earlier, we expect that the costs of licensing this
technology will be higher than normal because of the unproven nature of
the 10 CFR Part 52 licensing process and the need to create a gas
reactor licensing framework. The technical expertise needed to review
the PBMR application does not currently exist either in the NRC or in
the national labs and will need to be developed. We believe it is
appropriate for some level of government funding to be provided to fund
the work of government agencies in these areas.
Finally, the federal government must take additional action if new
plants using any nuclear technology are to be built. First, Congress
must renew the Price-Anderson Act, which will expire in August 2002.
Second, Congress and the Administration must take steps to assure the
existence of a competitive nuclear fuel market.
Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss this important issue
with you today.
Senator Domenici. Thank you. James Asselstine, Lehman
Brothers. We welcome your testimony.
STATEMENT OF JAMES K. ASSELSTINE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, LEHMAN
BROTHERS, INC., NEW YORK, NY
Mr. Asselstine. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I submitted a
written statement, so what I will do is really just summarize
some of the testimony.
Senator Domenici. It will be made a part of the record.
Mr. Asselstine. My perspective here is really as a
financial analyst, and I and most of my counterparts and
colleagues spend a fair amount of our time looking at and
evaluating the economic value of generating assets in this
country as we move to a competitive marketplace. My conclusion,
and I think it is shared by many, if not most of my colleagues,
is that nuclear assets are looking to have very significant
value in a competitive marketplace, and we really look to five
elements or factors in reaching that conclusion.
One is the satisfactory progress in terms of restructuring
within the industry, and generally a fairly good track record
in terms of how nuclear issues are being addressed in
individual State restructuring plans. Second is nuclear
economics, third, the improved operating performance that we
have seen from the plants, particularly over the past decade or
so, fourth, some of the positive regulatory changes that we
have seen at the NRC, and finally some of the steps that have
been taken in terms of industry consolidation and changing
operating arrangements for the companies and the plants, and I
will touch a little bit more on each of those.
In terms of industry restructuring, about half of the
country now has adopted formal restructuring plans to move to a
competitive marketplace. Those plans cover about 60 of the
nuclear units in the country, so we have enough of a track
record at this point I think to assess how nuclear issues are
being addressed in industry restructuring.
There are really two cost considerations. The first is the
utilities' ability to recover their stranded costs, the second
is the ability to recover decommissioning costs. Those both
relate fairly directly to nuclear.
In terms of stranded cost recovery, although no company is
being given an absolute guarantee, in general the State
restructuring plans provide a reasonable opportunity for
stranded cost recovery. Similarly, for decommissioning
expenses, those expenses have been recognized to be a health
and safety expense largely incurred during the regulated
operation of the plants, and those costs have been allowed to
be recovered as well, so by and large, industry restructuring
so far has treated nuclear fairly and evenhandedly, and
restructuring has been relatively benign for the nuclear fleet
in this country.
In terms of nuclear economics, nuclear enjoys several
advantages, and I think a number of the members of the
committee have already touched upon those in terms of the low
and stable fuel costs that nuclear units have. They are low on
environmental impacts. These are relatively large base load
plants, which enjoy economies of scale, and in many instances
these plants are must-run units that are necessary for system
If you compare nuclear costs to those of coal and gas-fired
generation, nuclear compares very favorably today. A well-run
large base-load coal plant can generate power at 2 cents or
slightly below per kilowatt hour. Combined cycle gas-fired
units with the increase in natural gas prices are beginning to
push 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour Most all nuclear fleet in
this country has operating costs that compare very favorably
with coal, and well under where current gas-fired generation is
today, so it appears to us that the nuclear fleet today is very
competitive compared with other alternatives.
Senator Domenici. Would you put your mike up a little
Mr. Asselstine. We have also seen fairly significant
improvement in the operating performance of the units. If you
look at operating costs, fuel and maintenance costs, if you
look at the capacity factors of the units themselves, the
length of refueling outages, the reporting of unusual events to
the NRC, all of those indicators have shown very significant,
dramatic improvement over the past decade, and that has been
something to those of us in the financial community that have
provided the assurance of the value of these units.
In terms of regulatory changes, I thing that Chairman
Meserve and his colleagues have done an excellent job in
carrying out their health and safety responsibilities, but also
doing that in a way that adapted to the changing requirements
of a competitive industry for nuclear units, and I would point
to three elements in particular where we have seen positive
contributions from the NRC.
One is in the new plant oversight and assessment process, a
second is in processing license transfers, ownership changes
for nuclear units as we move to competition has required
significant activity on NRC's part in terms of approving
license transfers, license amendments, and finally, in the
license renewal process, and as Chairman Meserve pointed out,
the commission in relatively quick time approved license
extensions for five units. If you add up all of the units that
have indicated a desire to move to plant life extension, they
total almost 40 percent of the plants in the country.
Finally, in terms of industry consolidation, we have seen
different changes in terms of ownership arrangement for the
plants. I tend to believe those will also enhance the
efficiency and lower the cost profile of those plants going
Turning to future commitments for plants, I would cite five
requirements as being important. First, new nuclear units will
have to be cost-competitive on a stand-alone basis. One of the
challenges here is the initial capital investment for nuclear
units. As with coal units, it is somewhat higher than gas-fired
plants. That issue will probably need to be addressed in terms
of the utility's ability, or the generating company's ability
to recover those costs going forward.
Second, it is necessary, given the past experience that we
have had in this country, to provide both the generating
companies and investors with assurance that plants can be built
on a predictable schedule and at a predictable cost.
Third, appropriate financing arrangements will have to be
provided if you will see future nuclear commitments in this
Fourth, we will need continued assurance of a reliable low
coast supply of fuel and enrichment services for the plants to
maintain one of nuclear's key cost advantages, and finally, on
the public acceptance side, I think the one issue where we
could see some additional progress would be in developing a
solution to the spent fuels disposal problem.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Asselstine follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF JAMES K. ASSELSTINE, MANAGING DIRECTOR,
LEHMAN BROTHERS, INC., NEW YORK, NY
Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee and Subcommittee, I want
to thank you for your invitation to testify at this joint hearing on
the state of the nuclear power industry and the future of the industry
in a comprehensive energy strategy. I head the High Grade Credit
Research Department at Lehman Brothers, and I am the senior credit
analyst on Lehman's fixed income research team following the electric
utility industry. I am pleased to offer my perspective as a financial
analyst on the state of the nuclear power industry and the future of
the industry in a comprehensive energy strategy. My testimony will
consist of two parts. The first part will address the current state of
the industry, focusing on the 103 nuclear units now in operation in
this country. The second part will consider the conditions under which
we might see future commitments to new nuclear units in the United
Turning to my first topic, I believe that there is a growing
recognition within the financial community that the existing nuclear
units in this country can be attractive and valuable assets as the
industry makes the transition to competitive power markets. This view
is based upon five factors: the generally beneficial treatment of
nuclear assets in the various state restructuring plans that have been
adopted to date; the favorable economics for nuclear units, which make
most, if not all, of the nuclear units in operation in the U.S. today
competitive on a cost basis with other available forms of generation;
the significant improvement in operating performance at the plants over
the past decade; positive regulatory developments at the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, which allow the NRC to discharge its health and
safety responsibilities while at the same time permitting the units to
retain their low cost advantage in a competitive power market; and
finally, consolidation within the industry and new operating
arrangements for the plants, which should further enhance the low cost
position of our nuclear units.
Turning first to industry restructuring, to date, 24 states and the
District of Columbia have adopted comprehensive industry restructuring
plans for the electric utility industry, either through legislation or
by administrative action. About 60 operating nuclear units are included
within these states, giving us a reasonable basis for assessing how
nuclear issues will be addressed in the transition to competitive power
markets. These state restructuring plans have addressed two important
cost components for nuclear units. For a utility's stranded costs--that
is, the difference between the current capital investment in a plant
and the estimated value of that plant based upon estimated power prices
in a competitive market--state restructuring plans have generally
provided the utilities a reasonable opportunity to recover their
stranded costs. Stranded costs have generally been recoverable through
a combination of established rates during the transition period to
competition, the benefits of securitized financings, often known as
rate reduction bonds, cost reductions, and the proceeds of asset sales.
Although we are still in the transition period in most jurisdictions,
the evidence suggests that in most instances, the utilities will likely
recover most or all of their stranded costs. Decommissioning expenses
represent the second nuclear-related cost component being addressed in
industry restructuring plans. Recent decommissioning cost estimates
tend to fall in the range of $400-$450 million per reactor, or about
$40-$45 billion in total for the industry. Of this amount, more than
one-third of the expected costs has been collected to date. State
restructuring plans have generally recognized that nuclear plant
decommissioning is a health and safety requirement, and that
decommissioning costs largely represent a pre-existing obligation that
was incurred during the operation of the plants under the regulated
regime. Accordingly, restructuring plans have typically allowed the
recovery of decommissioning costs through a wires charge to be paid by
utility distribution customers.
This brings me to my second factor, nuclear economics. With
provisions for the recovery of most or all stranded costs and of
decommissioning costs, the ongoing operating costs of the units becomes
the key variable in assessing the economics of nuclear power in a
competitive power market. Nuclear units enjoy several important
advantages, including their low and stable fuel costs, and their low
environmental emissions when compared with fossil-fueled generation.
Further, most nuclear units are large, baseload generators which enjoy
significant economies of scale, and many are ``must-run'' units that
are needed to maintain system reliability. Nevertheless, nuclear units
must compete on a cost basis in what is likely to be a highly
competitive generation market. Several factors affect expected
wholesale power prices. Wholesale prices in many regions of the country
are increasing, driven in part by increases in natural gas prices.
Marginal pricing in the market is typically set by coal-fired
generation and combined cycle gas. Environmental requirements are
increasing for coal-fired generation. Today, efficient, baseload coal-
fired plants can produce power at two cents/kWh or less, and new
combined cycle gas-fired plants can produce power at four to five
cents/kWh. By comparison, a well-run single nuclear unit can produce
power at or slightly above two cents/kWh, and large, multi-unit nuclear
plants can do somewhat better. These cost numbers reflect the cost of
fuel, operating and maintenance costs, new capital costs, taxes, and
general and administrative expenses.
My third factor is the improving operating performance of the
plants. Production costs--fuel, and operating and maintenance costs--
have been steadily declining, with an average of 1.83 cents/kWh in
1999. On a three-year rolling average for 1997-1999, the plants in the
top quarter of the industry had production costs of 1.33 cents/kWh;
plants in the bottom quarter had production costs of 2.8 cents/kWh.
Nuclear plants in the top three quarters are fully cost-competitive
with coal-fired units, and all nuclear units are cost-competitive with
new combined cycle gas. Substantial performance improvement is also
evident in the increased plant capacity factors over the past decade.
In 1990, only about half of the operating nuclear units in the country
had capacity factors above 70%, and less than one-third of the units
had capacity factors above 80%. In contrast, in 1999, 98 units, or all
but five, had capacity factors above 70%, and 90 units had capacity
factors above 80%. This trend is also reflected in the length of plant
refueling outages. In 1990, the average duration for refueling outages
was 101 days; in 1999, the average duration was 41.5 days, and the top
performers within the industry conducted refueling outages of 25 days
or less. Another measure of improved performance is the number of
unusual events reported to the NRC. In 1990, the number of unusual
events reported was 151; in contrast, in 2000, the number was 18. These
figures portray a clear trend in improved economic and operational
performance within the industry.
My fourth factor is the adoption of positive regulatory changes by
the NRC in the areas of plant oversight and assessment, the review of
license transfer requests, and the consideration of license renewal
applications. The NRC has adopted a new plant oversight and assessment
process, which replaces the agency's earlier Systematic Assessment of
Licensee Performance (SALP) and Watch List process. The new oversight
and assessment process uses more objective criteria to monitor and
evaluate plant performance, and provides a greater focus on the safety
significance of operating events. These changes, which make the
regulatory process more predictable and objective, are consistent with
the improving trend in plant performance. In the area of license
transfers, industry restructuring is leading to the need for a number
of plant ownership changes, which require NRC license transfer
approval. The NRC established an expedited hearing process in 1998,
which allows the agency to discharge its health and safety
responsibilities in a predictable and timely manner. Finally, the NRC
has demonstrated a successful plant license renewal process, which led
to plant license renewal decisions for the five Calvert Cliffs and
Oconee units in less than 23 months. License renewal applications were
filed for five additional units in 2000, and applications are expected
to be submitted for a further 28 units in the 2001-2004 time period.
Taken together, these units represent almost 40% of the operating units
in the country.
My final factor is industry consolidation and the adoption of new
operating arrangements within the industry. Consolidation carries with
it several benefits, including greater economies of scale, broader
career development opportunities leading to improved employee
retention, and the ability to capture the operating strengths and
experience of the stronger performers. In addition, these larger
nuclear operating organizations may be better equipped to cope with
individual plant challenges. Consolidation takes several forms. One
form is the creation of fewer, larger companies through mergers and
acquisitions, which have resulted in greater nuclear management
concentration. One example is the merger of PECO Energy and Unicom to
form Exelon, which created the largest nuclear operating organization
in the country with 17 operating units. A second example is the merger
of Carolina Power & Light and Florida Power Corporation to form
Progress Energy, which operates five nuclear units. Another form of new
operating arrangements is the use of corporate restructuring within the
industry. As the electric utilities transition to a competitive market,
an increasing number of companies that wish to retain their generating
plants are moving to a holding company structure with separate
subsidiaries for the regulated transmission and distribution business,
and for the unregulated generation business. In many instances, these
new, unregulated generation subsidiaries will have a significant
nuclear component. A third form of consolidation is through nuclear
plant sales. In 1999, Entergy completed its purchase of the Pilgrim
plant and AmerGen Energy completed its purchases of the Three Mile
Island and Clinton units. In 2000, AmerGen Energy completed its
purchase of Oyster Creek, and Entergy completed its purchases of the
Indian Point 3 and Fitzpatrick units. Last month, Dominion Resources
completed its purchase of the three Millstone units. Sales of minority
interests in the Salem and Hope Creek units to Exelon and PSEG Power,
and the sale of the Nine Mile Point units to Constellation Nuclear are
pending, and other plants including Vermont Yankee and Seabrook will
likely be auctioned in the future. Finally, still other electric
utilities are forming strategic alliances for certain aspects of the
operation of their nuclear units. Examples include the Nuclear
Management Company, which now serves as the licensee for eight units in
the Midwest, the STARS alliance, which provides cooperative efforts for
outage management, procurement, and regulatory affairs for eight
similar nuclear units, and ongoing studies by the Omaha and Nebraska
Public Power Districts of the feasibility of a joint operating company
for their two nuclear units.
Taken together, the generally positive treatment of nuclear issues
in state restructuring plans, the strong economic competitiveness of
nuclear units compared with other alternatives, the improving trend in
nuclear operating performance, positive NRC regulatory developments,
and the benefits of consolidation in nuclear plant operations are
leading many of us in the financial community to conclude that our
existing nuclear units can be attractive and valuable assets in a
competitive power market. As a final matter, it is worth noting that
the most rapid and cost-effective means of increasing nuclear
generation in this country is through pursuing incremental gains in
operating performance, as well as license renewal, for the existing
In the second part of my testimony, I want to consider the
conditions under which we might see future commitments for new nuclear
units in this country. I see five requirements that must be met if new
nuclear units are to be ordered and built. First, a new nuclear unit
must be cost competitive on a stand-alone basis with other
alternatives, such a clean coal technology and gas-fired generation.
One challenge for new nuclear and coal-fired generation is the
relatively higher initial capital investment required as compared with
a new combined cycle gas-fired plant. This disadvantage could be
overcome by a combination of lowering the initial cost differential and
perhaps by permitting the accelerated depreciation of the plant
Second, given the past experience with the construction and cost of
the current generation of nuclear plants, the generating companies and
their investors will require assurance that the plant can be built at a
predictable cost and on a predictable schedule. There are two aspects
to this requirement. The first aspect requires validating the expected
performance of the NRC's new licensing and regulatory process for the
approval of standardized designs and sites. The intent of this process
is to permit the advance approval of new plant designs and sites in
order to minimize the time and uncertainty related to the regulatory
approval for the start of plant construction, and especially, for the
start of plant operation. Although the NRC has approved several
advanced designs, the effectiveness of the entire process remains to be
tested. The second aspect requires measures to mitigate construction
completion and plant performance risk. Such risk sharing measures as
turnkey construction contracts, required plant performance
specifications, and liquidated damages provisions for nonperformance or
delays, which are commonly used in other power plant construction
projects, or other alternative risk sharing arrangements among the
project participants, may be needed.
Third, a new nuclear plant project must have appropriate financing
arrangements. One complicating factor here is that unlike previous
plants, which were built under a regulated regime that generally
provided for recovery of prudent costs from ratepayers, future plants
must be built, financed, and operated in a competitive power market. At
least for the initial plants, stand-alone financing for a nuclear
project would likely require substantial equity investments from a
number of project participants to minimize the adverse financial impact
on any single participant. Alternatively, a new nuclear unit could be
financed as part of a much larger operating generation company, thereby
diluting the new nuclear construction risk exposure sufficiently. Over
the past year, we have seen strong receptivity in the equity and debt
markets to financings for the new competitive generation companies
within the industry, including a recent debt financing for PSEG Power,
a company with several operating nuclear units. A successful
competitive generation company with a substantial portfolio of nuclear
and non-nuclear generating assets might well be able to ``shelter'' the
higher risk of a new nuclear unit.
Fourth, commitments to new nuclear units will require continued
assurance of a reliable, low cost supply of fuel and enrichment
services to preserve one of nuclear's key cost advantages. Finally, new
nuclear commitments will also require public acceptance. On the safety
side, continued strong performance of the existing plants together with
a continued effective NRC regulatory and oversight process should lead
to public acceptance of new plant commitments. The one area requiring
further attention is the need to demonstrate progress in developing a
solution for the disposal of spent fuel.
Senator Domenici. Thank you very much.
Mr. John Ahearne, professor, Duke University.
STATEMENT OF JOHN AHEARNE, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR,
DUKE UNIVERSITY, DURHAM, NC
Dr. Ahearne. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senators. I am
here representing myself. In 5 minutes I would like to briefly
cover five topics, NERAC research, education system,
infrastructure, and nuclear waste.
A few words on NERAC. That is the Nuclear Energy Research
Advisory Committee. It was set up several years ago to advise
the nuclear energy part of the Department of Energy on things
nuclear. We have generated several reports, and I would like to
submit for the record the summaries of those reports. One is on
the blue ribbon panel to look at education issues, another on
isotope research and production planning, another on
proliferation-resistant nuclear power systems, and the fourth
on the long-term R&D plan, and I would like to submit those for
Senator Domenici. That is done.
Dr. Ahearne. I would also submit the statement which is
called, Goals for Nuclear Energy.* This was just passed. It is
a 2-page summary passed by NERAC on Monday, and I submit that
also for the record.
* Retained in committee files.
On research, research is the fundamental support for an
advanced technology. The United States is a country that
depends on advanced technology. Let me quote from the
Scientific Allocation of Scientific Resources. This is a
National Science Board, March 28 of this year discussion draft.
It says, the Federal role today is especially critical for
research that is high risk, requires long-term investment in
the expectation of high pay-offs to society, or that is
unlikely to be funded by the private sector, for unique,
costly, cutting-edge research facilities and instrumentation,
and for academic research that is a primary purpose, supports
the education of the future science and engineering workforce.
That directly applies to nuclear energy enterprise.
The past administration, until the closing years, did not
support nuclear energy research. In 1997, PCAST, the
President's Council to the Advisor on Science and Technology,
did put out on Federal energy R&D, and it recommended something
that we call NERI, the nuclear energy research initiative, and
it began in 1998. It was a program to bring water to a parched
discipline. The program began and was supported, not at the
PCAST recommended level, but was supported, and I was delighted
to read in the several Senate bills--S. 388, S. 472, S. 597--
strong support for NERI.
Many in the nuclear community have welcomed the positive
words on nuclear by the administration, but the DOE budget
cripples the NERI program. From $28 million in 2001, the
program is cut to $11 million in 2002, and there are two
invisible aspects of that cut. First, this will not allow any
new starts. It will only carry on to completion the grants that
were made in the last 2 years.
Then, second, the grants that were awarded 3 years ago for
the first time come to completion. Some of those would deserve
being funded for a continuing basis. There is no money to do
The message to the research community that DOE has given by
what they have done to NERI is that DOE is not interested in
nuclear energy research, and hopefully the Congress can redress
Nuclear energy is more than electricity generation. Medical
isotopes are widely used, more than 12 million procedures a
year, industrial use, for example, for nondestructive testing,
and space power. The Rover, the little device that captured the
American public's interest as it moved around on Mars, was
powered by nuclear power.
Education. Nuclear energy is disappearing on campuses, for
many reasons, a hostile administration, an apparent demise of
nuclear powerplants, and no money for students and faculty.
Also, university research reactors are disappearing. This year,
at the moment, research reactors are--what are generally
regarded as the best undergraduate and graduate nuclear
engineering departments, Michigan and MIT, their research
reactors are slated to close. Why? The lack of Energy
Infrastructures in university and national labs, both of
them are decaying. It is hard to convince young students that a
field is viable if physical signs indicate it is not. In these
Goals for Nuclear Energy, we say, it is hard to imagine a
revitalization powered by utilization of 40- to 50-year-old
And then finally, on waste, waste is long seen as the
Achilles heel, the total flaw of nuclear power. The lack of the
Energy Department taking spent fuel may close down some
reactors, something that opponents have not been able to do,
but there are several States that are now saying they will not
allow any more dry casks to be built, because those States are
viewing themselves as becoming the national repository.
The permanent disposal of high-level waste has been
accomplished nowhere in the world. Finland is the country that
is closest to actually getting somewhere. The scientific and
technical community believes that deep geological repositories
are acceptable, but as Congress well knows, there is much more
to getting a site built than having the technical community
agree that it is a good idea.
This summer, a report will come out from the National
Research Council on geological disposal of high-level waste,
and I think that will have some light to shed on this issue,
and I will be glad later to answer any questions, and I look
forward particularly to hearing from the graduate student, who
can probably speak much more eloquently on the need for funding
Senator Domenici. Thank you very much, doctor.
Mr. Rhodes, would you proceed?
STATEMENT OF RICHARD RHODES, AUTHOR, MADISON, CT
Mr. Rhodes. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the
committee. I have provided a statement for the record. I would
like to just comment a little bit.
I am an independent journalist and historian. I have
written about nuclear issues for the last 30 years. I am not a
scientist or an engineer, but simply an informed citizen. To
quote Secretary of State James Baker, ``I got no dog in this
fight,'' but I do have three young grandchildren, and I care
about their future.
I just returned from the annual Japan Atomic Industrial
Forum Conference. It was held this year in Northern Japan. We
toured the new reprocessing facility that is under construction
at Rokashomora, and I must say, it was a wistful experience to
realize there was no American technology there, no American
participation there. I know the word reprocessing has been
taboo in these halls. Sooner or later, I think it is an issue
we are going to have to confront.
My book, Nuclear Renewal, which was published in 1994, gave
me a chance to talk to some of the pioneers in the industry. I
remember vividly speaking with Philip Fleger, who was the
chairman of Duquesne Light, the company that built the first
commercial nuclear power reactor in the United States, at
Fleger said the reason they went nuclear was for pollution
control. They were facing an increasing demand in Pittsburgh,
the smoky city in those days. Objectors were objecting to
building a coal plant, and the answer, and the solution, the
green solution in those days was to go nuclear. Nuclear power
is still the greenest form of energy that we have.
I think that we must deal with, or at least discuss, what
is clearly a strong anti-nuclear bias in many of the media. I
say that as a practicing journalist. I started out writing
about nuclear power from an anti-nuclear perspective simply
because I did not know any better, and as I got to know the
people who worked in the field, and as I got to understand the
technology, my position changed to being essentially pro-
To read the newspaper or watch television, you would never
know that coal-burning, besides killing at least 15,000
Americans every year from lung diseases, also releases 100
times as much radioactivity into the environment, megawatt for
megawatt, as nuclear power does.
Polling indicates that ordinary Americans have a generally
favorable view of nuclear power, but believe other people,
believe their neighbors disapprove of it.
I think that obviously the media's bias is not something
that this Congress can address, but surely the responsible
parties in the media might want to think about their position,
which seems to me to run counter to the interests of public
health in the United States, much less energy policy.
Let me close by mentioning a conversation I had some years
ago with Marcel Boiteux, who was the director of Electricite de
France at the time that France began to go commercially to
nuclear power. When I interviewed Dr. Boiteux, I made the
mistake of suggesting that the French Government and the
industry had encountered little resistance when they made their
decision to move to what is now about 80 percent dependence on
nuclear electricity. He was indignant. He said, to the
contrary, they had enormous problems. He said, our employees
received death threats. Coffins were delivered to plant sites.
My apartment, he told me, was bombed with plastique. He said,
the stairs collapsed through eight floors. It was a very
But then, he said, something important happened. At the end
of July 1977, he told me, the president of the republic,
Giscard d'Estainge, courageously announced that the nuclear
policy was not an EDF policy, it was a French policy, and that,
he concluded, changed the climate completely, because once the
whole of the political scene had taken a positive position in
relation to nuclear power, there was little protest.
That, I think, is what Senator Domenici and others in this
organization have, in fact, been doing these recent years, and
I commend you for it. Robert Oppenheimer, who, of course, was
the physicist who led the Los Alamos Laboratory in the
development of the first nuclear weapons, said something
similar once at a dark time in American history. He said, the
answer to fear does not always lie in dissipating the causes of
fear. Sometimes the answer lies in courage.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rhodes follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF RICHARD RHODES, AUTHOR, MADISON, CT
My name is Richard Rhodes. I'm an independent journalist and
historian, the author of eighteen books and numerous articles for
national magazines. One of my books, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, won
the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction. Since 1970 I've written
extensively about nuclear power, most recently in the journal Foreign
Affairs. I'm not a scientist or an engineer but simply an informed
citizen. I have no financial or professional connection with the
nuclear power industry. I do have three young grandchildren, and I care
about their future.
I've been writing about nuclear power issues since the early 1970s,
when the Energy Crisis moved them to the foreground. I vividly remember
interviewing Philip Fleger, chairman of Duquesne Light, which started
up the first American demonstration nuclear power plant at
Shippingport, Pennsylvania, in 1954. The basic reason Duquesne went
nuclear, Fleger recalled, was pollution control. Pittsburgh was still
very much the Smoky City in the early 1950s. It had begun urban
redevelopment in the late 1940s, instituting strict smoke control. By
the time the AEC solicited bids for the demonstration project, sulfur
oxide controls were under discussion in the Pittsburgh area, well ahead
of the rest of the nation. Duquesne at that time was petitioning to
build a coal-fired power plant on the Allegheny River, and citizens
were resisting. ``We encountered a great deal of harassment and delay
from objectors,'' Fleger told me--objectors objecting to coal, that is,
not to nuclear power. Fleger added, ``It began to look as if we
wouldn't be able to complete the plant on time to meet the power
demands we were facing.'' Doesn't that sound familiar? From Fleger's
and the Pittsburgh community's point of view, Shippingport was a
In 1954, nuclear power was generally perceived to be the green form
of energy for electrical generation. Nothing whatsoever has changed,
factually speaking, in the forty-seven years since then. Nuclear power
is still the greenest form of energy for electrical generation, greener
even than hydropower, solar or wind if damage to the environment is the
measure. France, by generating 80 percent of its electricity with
nuclear power, has reduced its air pollution by a factor of five. The
U.S. nuclear power industry has already made the largest contribution
of any U.S. industry to meeting the U.S. Kyoto commitment.
Why then is nuclear considered so problematic in the United States?
I think we should distinguish between public opinion as measured by
media coverage and public opinion as measured by scientific polling. As
a professional writer with more than eighty articles published in
national magazines across the past thirty years, it's my judgment that
the media has developed an antinuclear bias. There's ample evidence of
that bias in media coverage of accidents and breakdowns, which is far
more sensational and punitive for nuclear power than for other kinds of
To read the newspaper or watch television, you would never know
that coal burning, besides killing at least 15,000 Americans every year
from lung diseases, also releases one hundred times as much
radioactivity into the environment, megawatt for megawatt, as nuclear
power. Polling indicates that ordinary Americans have a generally
favorable view of nuclear power but believe other people disapprove of
it. With more than 100 power reactors operating nationwide, supplying
20 percent of U.S. electricity, millions of Americans live comfortably
near nuclear power plants. If they are reluctant to see new nuclear
power plants constructed in their communities, they are equally
reluctant to see coal or even gas-fired power plants constructed. NIMBY
is a fact of life in America today, and a serious problem as energy
shortages loom. Certainly it has been part of California's problem.
Let me close by mentioning a conversation I had some years ago with
Marcel Boiteux, the director of Electricite de France who pioneered
French commercial nuclear power. When I interviewed Dr. Boiteux I made
the mistake of suggesting they had encountered little public
resistance. To the contrary, he told me indignantly, there were
enormous problems. ``Our employees received death threats,'' he said.
``Coffins were delivered to the plant sites. My apartment was bombed
with plastique--the stairs collapsed through eight floors. It was a
very difficult time.'' But then, he said, something important happened.
``At the end of July 1977,'' he told me, ``the president of the
republic, Giscard d'Estaing, courageously announced that the nuclear
policy was not an EDF policy: it was a French policy. And that,''
Boiteux concluded, ``changed the climate completely, because once the
whole of the political scene had taken a positive position in relation
to nuclear power, there was little protest.''
Robert Oppenheimer said something similar once, at a dark time in
American history. ``The answer to fear,'' he said, ``does not always
lie in dissipating the causes of fear; sometimes the answer lies in
Senator Domenici. Thank you very much.
Heather, we are glad to have you.
STATEMENT OF HEATHER J. MacLEAN, GRADUATE STUDENT, NUCLEAR
ENGINEERING, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, CAMBRIDGE,
Ms. MacLean. Thank you very much. It is an honor to present
testimony at this joint committee hearing today. I would like
to thank Senators Murkowski and Domenici for inviting me here.
There have been many positive discussions recently about
the role of nuclear power in our Nation's energy supply, both
within the industry and in the general public and press. I have
dedicated my education and career to creating safer, more
efficient nuclear energy, often struggling against poor public
perception and a lack of awareness of the benefits of nuclear
As I near the end of my graduate work, and contemplate my
future career, it has been especially encouraging to hear
government leaders in both Congress and the executive branch
discussing the importance of nuclear energy. Words alone,
however, are not enough. We must take action now to reverse the
decline in our nuclear human resources.
In my 9 years of studying nuclear engineering, I have
conducted experiments at three university research reactors,
earned by NRC operator's license at the University of
Wisconsin, worked three summers at a commercial nuclear
powerplant, and am now working closely with the Knolls Atomic
Power Laboratory on my Ph.D. research.
I have always worked with students, professors, and
professionals who are committed to the challenges of making
advances in nuclear science and technology. It is through these
experiences that I have developed my belief in the importance
of nuclear energy to our Nation's development and security, and
have become dedicated to rebuilding our future in nuclear
To continue our past successes and make future advances in
nuclear engineering, we must start now to rebuild our strongest
resource, our students. To do this requires three commitments.
First, we must attract new students to nuclear engineering
programs, or we will not be able to run our current reactors or
design new ones.
Second, we must also encourage young Ph.D. graduates to
teach the next generation of students. Without new professors,
who will develop the future nuclear engineers and scientists we
so desperately need, and third, equally as important, we must
also support the nuclear industry and encourage a business
climate where utilities can make decisions to build new plants
without undue uncertainty. We need a business environment in
which the nuclear industry can thrive, seeking innovative and
progressive solutions so that students will want to
Unfortunately, the group of nuclear engineers with whom I
have worked is shrinking, as talented and skilled nuclear
graduates are leaving the field. The nuclear power industry is
still often seen as a dying one, and many of my classmates are
pursuing other careers with higher perceived opportunity and
longer term, more certain futures. For those same reasons, few
new students are willing to join nuclear engineering programs,
and many departments have closed or merged with others.
During the past decade, the number of nuclear engineering
programs has declined by 50 percent, with only approximately 25
4-year degree programs remaining. Equally alarming, in just the
past 10 years, enrollments in nuclear engineering Nation-wide
have dropped by almost 60 percent. This year, the demand for
nuclear engineers exceeded supply by 350. Companies actually
want to hire nuclear engineers now, but there are not enough.
This trend will only continue to worsen, as 76 percent of
our nuclear professionals will be eligible to retire in 5
years. At the same time, more and more plants are renewing
their licenses and are in need of qualified nuclear engineers.
We must take action now to stop the decline in the nuclear
workforce and rebuild our human resources for the future.
When I was first offered a summer job at a commercial
nuclear powerplant 7 years ago, I was sure it was not the
career path for me. 3 months later, I realized I could not have
been more wrong. As a nuclear engineering student, working at a
powerplant was an amazing experience, an incredible opportunity
to see, in operation, the ideas I had read about in textbooks.
In my graduate studies, I am working with a team designing
an advanced gas-cooled pebble-bed reactor, a concept that has
received much positive attention in the press recently. We are
developing a safe, reliable reactor technology that is also
easy to build and operate, and is competitive with natural gas
plants. I have decided to stay in nuclear engineering, and
continue to work on advance designs, often despite the advice
of engineering colleagues, because these technologies offer
improved safety, higher efficiency, clean air, and integrated
However, I do not think I would have stayed at MIT had I
not been a recipient of DOE nuclear engineering fellowship. The
fellowship program awarded me the opportunity to stay in school
and research a topic I found important and vital to nuclear
engineering. It is clear that our educational institutions are
world-class, and have been at the forefront of new nuclear
technology development, but we are in danger of losing our edge
and our expertise, immediately to be followed by global
The industry cannot survive without new students. The best
way to attract new students is with an active, viable industry
with long-term careers. The Government needs to help by sending
the message that nuclear energy is an important national
resource, vital to our economic development and environmental
health, by helping ensure opportunities for the future.
As an optimistic nuclear engineering student, I would like
to encourage the members of these committees to support nuclear
energy and its students by supporting bills such as S. 242,
sponsored by Senator Bingaman, and S. 472, sponsored by Senator
Thank you very much for your interest in the future of
[The prepared statement of Ms. MacLean follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HEATHER J. MACLEAN, GRADUATE STUDENT, NUCLEAR
ENGINEERING, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, CAMBRIDGE, MA
ATTRACTING STUDENTS FOR THE NUCLEAR FUTURE
Supporting Our Best Nuclear Resource--Our Students
It is an honor to present testimony at this joint committee hearing
on the current state and future of nuclear power. I would like to thank
Senators Murkowski and Domenici for inviting me here today. I am also
honored to be the second student from MIT to be invited to speak on the
future of nuclear energy, following Alan Smith's testimony before the
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development in
There have been many positive discussions recently about the role
of nuclear power in our nation's energy supply, both within the nuclear
industry and in the general public and press. These discussions and
increasing acknowledgement of the benefits of nuclear power and a more
open discussion about the possibility of nuclear power becoming a more
active participant in our energy mix have been extremely encouraging to
me as I near the end of my graduate work and contemplate my future
career. I have dedicated my education and career, my life's work, to
creating safer, more efficient nuclear energy, often struggling against
poor public perception and a lack of awareness of the benefits of
nuclear technologies. Therefore, it has been especially encouraging to
hear government leaders in Congress and the Executive branch discussing
the importance of nuclear energy. Vice President Cheney has publicly
emphasized the need for new nuclear power plants to meet increasing
power demands and environmental concerns. Words alone, however, are not
enough; we must take action to reverse the decline in our nuclear human
In my nine years of studying nuclear engineering, I have had many
exciting and rewarding opportunities to experience the hands-on effects
of the theory I have learned. I have been fortunate to have conducted
experiments at three university research reactors (at the University of
Michigan Ford Nuclear Reactor, the University of Wisconsin Nuclear
Reactor, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reactor); earn
my NRC operator's license at the University of Wisconsin Nuclear
Reactor; work three summers at a commercial nuclear power plant,
including sitting above the core during a refueling outage; tour seven
commercial nuclear power plants; and work closely with Knolls Atomic
Power Laboratory and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental
Laboratory on my Ph.D. research. I have also served as the president of
both the University of Wisconsin and MIT Student Sections of the
American Nuclear Society and have helped organize student programs at
national meetings. I have always worked with students, professors, and
professionals who are committed to the challenges of making advances in
nuclear science and technology. It is through these experiences that I
have developed my belief in the importance of nuclear energy to our
nation's development and security and have become dedicated to
rebuilding our future in nuclear energy.
To continue our past successes and make future advances in nuclear
engineering we must start now to rebuild our strongest resource--our
students. To do this, we must attract new students to nuclear
engineering programs, or we will not be able to run our current
reactors or design new ones. We must also encourage young Ph.D.
graduates to teach the next generation of students; without new
professors, who will develop the future nuclear engineers and
scientists we so desperately need? Equally as important, we must also
support the nuclear industry and encourage a business climate where
utilities can make decisions to build new nuclear plants without undue
uncertainty. We need a business environment in which the nuclear
industry can thrive, seeking innovative and progressive solutions, so
that students will want to participate.
In my graduate studies, I am working with a team designing an
advanced gas-cooled pebble bed reactor, a concept that has received
much positive attention in the public press recently. Working closely
with other universities, national laboratories, and the international
industry, we are developing a safe, reliable reactor technology that is
also easy to build and operate and is competitive with natural gas
plants. The safety and viability of this and other advanced designs
needs the type of attention and research that previous research
reactors provided for the current technology. I chose to work on this
design because it offers the possibility of reintroducing nuclear
energy technologies to the American market and seeks to improve on
plant design, incorporating many of the lessons learned over the past
50 years. Even more importantly, I've decided to stay in nuclear and
continue to work on advanced designs, often despite the advice of
engineering colleagues, because these technologies offer improved
safety, cleaner air, and solutions that address the waste issue.
I don't think I would have stayed at MIT past a master's degree had
I not been a recipient of a DOE Nuclear Engineering Fellowship. The
Fellowship program awarded me the opportunity to stay in school and
research a topic I found important and vital to nuclear engineering.
Not only has the fellowship program supported me financially; the
opportunity to conduct part of my research at the Knolls Atomic Power
Laboratory has been invaluable.
Created in 1948, the Atomic Energy Commission Special Fellows
program, predecessor to the DOE Fellowship program, trained bright,
young students in nuclear science and related fields. Between 1948 and
1970 this program supported 75 to 100 students per year at 60 national
education institutions. Former AEC Fellows authored many of the leading
textbooks used in nuclear engineering today. AEC Special Fellows
graduates include four Nobel Laureates, several DOE Laboratory
Directors, and University Presidents. AEC Fellow graduate James
Duderstadt is the author of my first nuclear engineering textbook and
the President Emeritus of the University of Michigan.
Many of the AEC Special Fellows program graduates went on to teach
in nuclear engineering programs, developing advances in nuclear
technology while training the next generation of nuclear engineers.
Today, there are only about 25 university programs offering nuclear
engineering degrees and the DOE Nuclear Engineering Fellowship program
supports only 22 students. Equally alarming, in just the past ten
years, enrollments in nuclear engineering nationwide have dropped by
almost 60 percent (from 3,440 to 1,520) according to written testimony
submitted by James Duderstadt, Chairman of the Nuclear Energy Research
Advisory Committee. This year, the demand for nuclear engineers
exceeded supply by 350; by 2003 it will be more than 400. This trend
will only continue to worsen as more nuclear professionals are eligible
to retire and more and more plants are renewing their licenses and are
in need of qualified nuclear engineers. We must take action now to stop
the decline in the nuclear workforce and rebuild our human resources
for the future.
When I was first offered a summer job at a commercial nuclear power
plant seven years ago, I was sure it wasn't the career path for me.
With my limited knowledge at the time, I thought the future of nuclear
power was dim; no new plants had been ordered in 25 years and the
oldest plants were just beginning the decommissioning process, with
more to follow. I was attracted by the future prospects of creating
energy through fusion, but saw little hope in the fission industry.
Three months later, I realized I couldn't have been more wrong! The
atmosphere at the plant was electric; the plant I was at had been
through some hard times, but everyone on site was dedicated to getting
the plant up and running and operating well. As a nuclear engineering
student, working at a power plant was an amazing experience, an
incredible opportunity to see, in operation, the ideas I had read about
in textbooks. Two-inch square black and white diagrams of nuclear
reactor cores in a textbook simply don't compare to seeing the real
thing, in full size and color, while sitting above 30 feet of water.
Few things have been as memorable as sitting above the core supporting
the operators as old fuel was moved out and new fuel brought in. I
returned for two more summers, always comparing what I learned in class
to what I saw at the plant.
Unfortunately, the group of nuclear engineers with whom I have
worked is shrinking as talented and skilled nuclear graduates are
leaving the field. The nuclear power industry is often seen as a dying
one and many of my classmates are pursuing other careers with higher
perceived opportunity and longer-term, more certain, and exciting
futures. For these same reasons, few new students are entering nuclear
engineering programs. Many nuclear engineering departments have closed
or merged with other, larger departments. During the past decade, the
number of nuclear engineering programs has declined by 50 percent, with
only approximately 25 four-year degree programs currently existing
It is important that we attract students to our nuclear education
programs to develop the future workforce. To do that, students (and
their parents) need to understand the importance of nuclear energy to
our nation's future. However, our nuclear programs are disappearing and
those remaining are growing older. Over two-thirds of the faculty in
these programs are 45 years or older. The statistics are even more
severe in the overall nuclear picture: according to the Department of
Energy University Nuclear Science and Engineering Act, Senate Bill S.
242, 76 percent of the nation's professional nuclear workforce will be
eligible to retire in five years. If we don't bring new students into
the universities and into nuclear jobs now, we will lose the
opportunity to transfer that hard-earned knowledge to the next
generation. We've invested over 50 years of dedicated research to
develop our nuclear programs, both for civilian and defense purposes,
if we don't save it now, we will have to start over.
The continued survival and success of our nuclear energy industry
requires government leadership fostering attitudes that value the
contribution energy makes to our standard of living and the benefits
achieved from nuclear science and technology. Energy is a commodity
different from most other consumer goods and is usually taken for
granted by those who use it. When asked where electricity comes from,
the most common answer in the United States is ``from the outlet'' or
``from the switch''. Energy is absolutely vital to our economic
prosperity, technological advances in all fields, and our standard of
living. Recognizing and promoting the value of energy as a national
good, as a solution to problems, not a detriment, is crucial to
maintaining a vibrant, innovative, and reliable energy industry.
I am sure that most members of these committees here today would
agree that nuclear energy is vital to our nation's economic and
environmental health. Nuclear energy provides reliable electricity
generation, supplying 20 percent of the electricity we consume, and is
free of greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. To ensure the
availability of nuclear power in our overall energy strategy, we must
continue to attract students to nuclear engineering education programs
to provide a qualified workforce for the future.
At many of our universities, we are training as many foreign
students as domestic. It is clear that our educational institutions are
world-class and have been at the forefront of new nuclear technology
development, but we are in danger of losing our edge and our expertise
immediately to be followed by our global leadership. If we cannot
attract our own students into these programs and into industry, we will
be forced to buy nuclear technology back from the other countries that
have supported nuclear power as a part of their own energy strategies
when we decide it's necessary here.
Since I've entered this field I've always known that there would be
jobs available for me, though I have been afraid that my career would
consist of decommissioning the current reactors. Given the current
discussions and renewed interest in nuclear power, I am once again
excited about the opportunities that will be available to me when I
graduate. The prospect of being a member of a team working to develop a
new reactor technology and bringing new nuclear reactors to the
American market would be a dream job for me! I believe that nuclear
energy is important to our energy mix, our energy independence and
stability, our economic prosperity, and our environmental health.
Nuclear technology provides wide-reaching benefits to our society not
only through energy stability, but also through medical diagnoses and
treatments, and food safety, just to name a few. I want to make a
contribution to this technology that is not just a future job for me,
but also a core belief.
To revitalize our nuclear industry and to continue to support the
tremendous achievements made during the past 50 years requires, in my
opinion, three commitments. We must attract students to nuclear
engineering programs; we must attract new, young professors to those
programs to teach the next generation of nuclear professionals; and we
must enhance the business climate for the introduction of new
technologies. Students will only be attracted to nuclear engineering if
they can see active, exciting, and long-term careers. I have found out,
contrary to my initial opinions, that the nuclear industry is indeed
exciting, challenging, and rewarding. Unfortunately, it seems to be a
secret we try to keep from everyone else. The government needs to help
by sending the message that nuclear energy is an important national
resource, vital to our economic development and environmental health,
and by helping ensure opportunities for the future.
As an optimistic nuclear engineering student, I would like to
encourage the members of these committees to support nuclear energy and
its students by supporting bills such as Senate Bills S. 242, the
Department of Energy University Nuclear Science and Engineering Act,
sponsored by Senator Bingaman, and S. 472, the Nuclear Energy
Electricity Supply Assurance Act, sponsored by Senator Domenici.
Thank you for your interest in the future of nuclear energy!
Senator Domenici. Thank you very much, ma'am. Mr. Chairman,
we are finished with our witnesses.
Chairman Murkowski. Thank you very much. I apologize for
running in and out of here like this, but I had the Ambassador
from South Korea in, and that is one of the problems we have.
I just have one question that I would like to pose to Mr.
McNeill relative to the pebble bed reactor, and it involves
your comment that this appears to be the safest technology that
we have been able to theoretically develop. That kind of leads
me into my question.
If you were going to evaluate the next step for the nuclear
industry in the United States, would you not think that it
would be somewhat of a risk to start on an unproven technology
such as the pebble bed, even though it seems to have a great
deal of promise, particularly from the standpoint of the
unlikely possibility for meltdowns and so forth, or would we be
better off, if we are going to initiate a new program, to go
back to a more conventional light water reactor that has proven
technology, and we know what the costs are, and we know through
experience the operational procedure and so forth?
It would seem to me that there is some risk in initiating a
new technology that has yet to be proven in the sense of
operational functions that if the costs went up, or we had some
problems, it could again set back the industry from the
standpoint of the criticism from public and Government over
delays, cost increases and so forth, so if you could just
comment on that very briefly, and I will yield to my
Mr. McNeill. I would be happy to. First of all, the reactor
technology in the pebble bed is evolutionary, it is not
revolutionary. It is not new. This is a design that has been
used in Europe, in Germany for about 20 years. The problems
associated with that design have been identified, and we are
incorporating the solutions to those modest problems in our
design, so what is different in the pebble bed is the coupling
of the reactor with a direct cycle turbine. We do not think
that is--while it is new, we do not think it is of high risk,
because turbine technology is fairly well understood in itself.
So on a personal basis, representing my company, I think it
is a risk for our investment purposes that is worth taking,
given the other advantages that come with the design and the
safety features and the small modularity that come with that
Chairman Murkowski. Well, let me ask you one more question.
Do you intend, then, since you are one of the larger operators
of nuclear plants, to proceed with an application at a given
time, to develop the pebble bed reactor?
Mr. McNeill. As I highlighted in my written testimony,
based upon our evaluation of the design feasibility study,
which will be done this summer, in conjunction with the other
investors, we would make a decision in the fall to move ahead
with a demonstration plant in South Africa, follow that up with
an early site permitting process in the United States sometime
early to mid next year, more likely mid next year, and then a
design for an application for a construction and operating
license under Part 52 late next year or early in 2003.
Chairman Murkowski. Is that process going to require any
role for the Federal Government, other than the review,
obviously of permits and application and so forth? Is there
going to be a request for an expedited procedure, or is there
going to be some kind of a request that will ensure that if it
is built it is going to receive operational approval?
Mr. McNeill. We would do this under the new Part 52
permitting process, in which we would expect to exercise the
new requirements that were put in place in the late 1980's. It
would be the first, I think, the first application for
construction, unless somebody gets there with a light water
application prior to that, and one of the benefits of this
design is, is that we would only be risking $150 million.
Not that that is a small amount of money, but it is not the
$2 to $3 billion that have been at risk in prior constructions,
and this is one of the fundamental benefits of this design,
that I do not think people fully comprehend yet, is that the
investment risk is much smaller than it was in prior designs.
Chairman Murkowski. Well, that is very encouraging, and we
are certainly pleased to hear that, and I trust that as you
proceed, that if you are going to need anything other than the
normal reviews of the permits and so forth from the Federal
Government, that you advise us.
Mr. McNeill. I think in my written testimony we have
highlighted a few items that would be beneficial in terms of
providing funding to the NRC for development of expertise in
this technology, and some other things.
Chairman Murkowski. Thank you very much.
Senator Domenici. Senator Bingaman, do you want to proceed?
Does anyone know how many nuclear powerplants are in some
phase of construction or on a permanent order status anywhere,
a combination of those in the world, Japan or elsewhere?
Anybody at the table know how many that is?
Mr. Meserve. Senator, we would be prepared to submit more
complete information for the record. I do know that the
Japanese have an aggressive program for construction of
reactors. Similarly, the Koreans, who have 16 nuclear reactors
now, have aspirations of building about another 10 or so over
the next 15 years.
[The information referred to follows:]
According to the Nuclear News, as of December 31, 2000, 40 nuclear
power reactors were either under construction or on order outside the
United States (1 in Argentina, 4 in Armenia, 1 in Brazil, 8 in China, 1
in Czech Republic, 4 in India, 1 in Iran, 4 in Japan, 2 in Russia, 2 in
Slovakia, 2 in North Korea, 4 in South Korea, 4 in Ukraine, and 2 in
Senator Domenici. So Japan is planning on 15 for their
energy needs in the future? What about China?
Mr. Meserve. I do not know the precise number that the
Japanese are planning on, but they do have aspirations for
construction. There is a reactor that is under construction in
Taiwan right now. The Russians have an interest in new
reactors. It is clear the Chinese have aggressive interest in
nuclear reactors. There recently, as I understand it, was an
application for new construction in Finland. There are a
variety of countries in the world that have an interest in and
plans for construction.
Senator Domenici. Anybody else?
Mr. Rhodes. The vice chairman of the Chinese Atomic Energy
Authority spoke at the conference I attended in Japan. He said
that eight units with total capacity of 6,600 megawatts will be
completed and put into operation between 2003 and 2005.
Taiwan, of course, has one new plant, North Korea has two
plants under construction, with U.S. support, which we may all
be grateful, and then Finland is pursuing developing one more
plant. That was the information from the conference.
Senator Domenici. Anybody else know of any more?
Mr. McNeill. Senator, let me clarify up one thing. I have
been informed that the 1,300 plant construction requirement the
DOE predicts is 300 megawatts each, so that is a more accurate
number than the one I gave you.
Senator Domenici. So the current DOE assessment of how many
new powerplants we need online for electricity is 1,300.
Mr. McNeill. 1,300, and they would be of the 300-megawatt
Senator Domenici. Which are much smaller than we have been
Mr. McNeill. Yes, they would be.
Senator Domenici. Anybody else, do you know anything about
any other powerplants being ordered?
Dr. Ahearne. Well, Russia, of course, is quite interested
in getting back to completing some of the plants that they had
halted, and if they can find money somewhere, they would like
to build some more, but money is being a real problem for them.
Senator Domenici. Well, let me move ahead rather quickly
and just lay before the record, with reference to the
activities that are going on in the Department of Energy that
affect nuclear research and the like, and what is happening to
The budget of the executive branch for the Department of
Energy, Senator, looks kind of like they put it together not
anticipating that they were going to do anything in the nuclear
field. Now, maybe they are coming around saying they are, but
that is kind of what it looks like. Nuclear energy research, an
area which you have referred to, we have been funding that
without executive requests for a number of years. It is $35
million. It has been halved, been cut in half.
Dr. Ahearne. More than that, cut more than that.
Senator Domenici. Okay. We are putting it down as a half.
Maybe it is more. There is a very serious research effort on
low-dose radiation effect which I think all of you would concur
is a national necessity.
We have been using this linear automatic relationship on a
linear basis for years, and that makes people much more fearful
of low-level radiation than we think they are going to have to
be, and this is cut back from 20 to 10 or lower, and university
research which you were referring to, Heather, we had at $12
million, not a lot, but we have got started, right out of that
little budget. I think that has been cut in half, or more, so I
believe we have to go back--in fact, the American effort is
going to be to get back into doing something in this area.
Then we have to have a Department of Energy that has some
nuclear science somewhere in the building. It cannot go
somewhere else for nuclear energy. It has got to be in the
building. Some of these things have to be happening.
I have a lot more, but I am going to let Senator Bingaman,
my friend from Nebraska, and then I will try to wrap up.
Senator Bingaman. Thank you very much. One other aspect of
this projection about how many new plants we are going to need
in the future, I think that comes from the Energy Information
Administration's Annual Energy Outlook for 2001. They say in
there that they anticipate we will need 393 gigawatts of new
generating capacity, 16 percent of which will replace retired
nuclear capacity, so 16 percent of the additional capacity they
anticipate we will need between now and 2020, will be needed to
make up for retired nuclear capacity.
Chairman Meserve, you said something that led me to believe
that a lot of that anticipated retiring of nuclear capacity is
not likely to happen. Am I right about that?
Mr. Meserve. You are right, Senator.
Senator Bingaman. Do we have an idea as to whether there
will be retiring of any of our existing nuclear capacity?
Mr. Meserve. About 40 percent of the fleet have come in and
told us already that they intend to seek license renewal.
Informally, we have been told that 85 to as much as 100 percent
of the fleet will, in fact, seek license renewal.
This reflects that these plants are the low-cost producers,
and it is in the interest, then, of the generating companies to
keep them online if they can.
Senator Bingaman. So it is very possible that the retiring
nuclear plants that 16 percent of the new generating capacity
that EIA says we need to replace, will not, in fact, be
Mr. Meserve. That is correct.
Senator Bingaman. Let me ask also, Chairman Meserve, you
cited a whole bunch of new responsibilities which were not
necessarily expected 6 months ago when the administration
started putting its budget together.
I know this is a long process each year when the
administration starts putting budgets together, but all of
these applications for renewal, all the applications for
expanding capability that you talked about, Mr. McNeill's
reference to perhaps this new technology that they are coming
on with, which will require additional--I am just wondering
whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission budget, the way it
has been presented to us, is going to reflect any of that, or
if you could give us an estimate as to how much additional
funding the NRC is going to need in order to carry out these
Mr. Meserve. Yes, Senator, you are quite correct that the
budget process does involve us starting to engage with OMB
around this time of the year, and a lot of the changed
environment that we have been discussing today has been
something that has just emerged in the last few months.
We are in the process of evaluating the implications that
that will have for us for the fiscal year 2002 budget, which is
the one that is before you now. I would be very happy to submit
information for the record as to what increased demands that
places on us.
[The following information was provided:]
Serious industry interest in new construction of nuclear power
plants has only recently emerged. As a result, after a mid-year budget
review, the NRC reprogrammed approximately 12 full-time-equivalent
(FTE) staff in FY 2001 to evaluate and assess the agency's technical,
licensing, and inspection capabilities. These resources have been made
available through efficiencies and postponing work that in the short-
term should have no impact on our ability to meet our Strategic Plan
goals, metrics and program requirements. This evaluation and assessment
of our capabilities will help identify any enhancements that are
necessary to ensure that the agency can effectively carry out its
responsibilities associated with an early site permit application, pre-
application and license reviews, and the construction of a new nuclear
power plant. The new initiative will not affect our ability to continue
to ensure the adequate protection of public health and safety at
existing operating facilities in FY 2001.
The preliminary estimate of resources needed in FY 2002 to review
early site permit applications, conduct pre-application and license
review activities, and begin to assess the advanced technologies being
considered by industry, is approximately $15-$18 million. Since there
was no indication of serious industry interest in future licensing
activities at the time our FY 2002 budget was developed, the budget now
before the Congress does not include resources which may be needed for
these activities. We note that there are significant demands on NRC
budget resources to ensure safety of existing operating facilities and
continue important ongoing initiatives, such as renewal of existing
reactor licenses, and moving forward a more risk-informed regulatory
environment. To the extent additional resources are needed and
approved, NRC would need appropriate lead time to hire and train
personnel to perform activities associated with these new initiatives.
Senator Bingaman. I think that would be very useful for us.
Mr. Asselstine, you cited about five requirements you
believe need to be met if new nuclear plants are to be built in
the country. Do you see any legislation that is required in
order to achieve any of those requirements? I mean, did you
identify in your analysis things that we need to change in the
law in order for this to become a reality?
Mr. Asselstine. I am not sure that there are a lot of
legislative changes that are really necessary here. As a result
of the Congress' past action, we now do have a new regulatory
process, a streamlined process, as you pointed out, for site
approval, for standardized design approval. What we really need
to do, I think, now, is come in with a couple of applications
and test that process out, and validate it, to demonstrate
that, in fact, it will work as intended.
One area that might help, and I mentioned this briefly in
my comments, one of the challenges in terms of building either
new coal plants or new nuclear plants is the relatively larger
initial capital investment for those plants, and one thing that
the Congress might look at is accelerating depreciation for
those investments. That would certainly make making the larger
up-front capital investment for a nuclear unit or for a coal-
fired plant more attractive to a generating company going
A generating company will look at, what investment do I
have to make today, how quickly will I be able to recover that
investment, and right now the balance has clearly been skewed
in favor of new gas-fired generating capacity. The plants are
cheaper to build initially, operating costs may be higher over
the remaining life, but the risk profile of the initial
investment is quite low, and that has driven most generating
companies to make commitments to gas-fired capacity, and that
has been the name of the game, literally for the past several
Senator Bingaman. Let me ask Chairman Meserve one other
question here. How long a period are we looking at for the NRC
to issue a license to construct and operate a plant? One of the
other factors, I assume, that causes investors to look more
favorably upon gas-generating plants instead of nuclear is the
delay that they anticipate in getting a license issued, so I
guess there are two different kinds that we talked about here.
You have certified designs that the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission has already approved. If a utility board comes in
and requests a license to go ahead with one of those, could you
give us a time frame, and then if they request a new design--I
gather this pebble bed reactor would qualify as different from
those--how long would that take?
Mr. Meserve. What we have tried to do is to put in place a
process that gets as many of the regulatory decisions as
possible made early so that an investor has some predictability
in the process before a lot of money is sunk into a project
that may go nowhere.
We have not exercised, yet, the regulatory system that we
have in place that is intended to provide that predictability,
other than certifying designs. We have three advanced reactor
designs that have been certified. None of them have been built
in the United States, but there have been three designs on the
shelf, as you indicated.
We also have a process that allows issuance of an early
site permit. Before you have announced an intention to actually
use the site, you can come in and have the issues as to the
site addressed and resolved early.
We also have the prospect of a combined license, which
means early in the process you can have all of the issues
resolved. Such an application might include a reference to an
early site permit and a certified design. That would be faster,
obviously, if you did that.
Since we have not tested these processes, I would be very
reluctant to give you an estimate on which you could rely as to
the time for their completion. It is clearly something that
would likely take several years. You have to go through a NEPA
process, for example, which means that there is preparation of
an environmental impact statement. There might be hearings,
which of course would be a wild card that could affect the
timing of events.
We think we have in place a system that does enable us to
avoid some of the pitfalls that have existed in the past as to
late decisionmaking from an economic point of view, and delayed
Senator Bingaman. Mr. McNeill, did you want to supplement
Mr. McNeill. Our estimate, Senator, is that that is roughly
a 27-month process.
Senator Bingaman. 27 months from the time you filed the
application to the time that it is granted?
Mr. McNeill. Yes. We think that that is sort of a favorable
time line because of the requirements. Some of them are
requirements that have been longstanding in place, NEPA and
things of that nature. We would encourage creating the ability
to move through that in a faster manner, just to make sure that
time lines are kept as reasonable, but shortened as much as is
feasible, and I do not know what that is right now, but from a
business standpoint, without relation to anything, if we could
do that in 18 months I would feel a lot better on things.
Senator Bingaman. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Domenici. Were you finished, then?
Senator Bingaman. Yes.
Senator Domenici. Thank you for the questions, Senator.
I would like to talk a little bit with all of you about the
way things are changing. First, let us talk with the financial
man. What you are saying, coupled with what Corbin McNeill is
saying regarding the kind of powerplant that we will be
building in the future, his expectation is they will not be
1,000 kilowatt, big ones that the finance people have to look
at and wonder if they can finance because it is going to take
10 to 12, 14 years to get finished.
We are talking about the marketplace having a bigger impact
here because it is assumed we can get these done quicker, and
that they will probably be modular, upon which you can add
later on whatever models are desired.
Between the two of you, could you tell us, other than size,
what makes this doable now, and we could not do anything 10
years ago? Is it new design, is it the new statute that we have
where you can now apply under--could you just share with the
committee what is making it possible? Go ahead.
Mr. Asselstine. I think several factors. One, 10 years ago,
all of the experience of working through recovering the initial
investment and the cost of the current generation of plants was
pretty fresh on our minds, and it certainly had an impact on
the credit quality and the financial position of the utilities,
and also it had an impact on investors as well.
Second, that was at a time when we then had a substantial
amount of base load generating capacity. There really was not
much need at that point in many parts of the country for new,
large base load generating plants so the need really was not
Third, we did not have the new NRC regulatory process. At
the time, under the old regime, you had to come in with an
application to build a new plant, and you also had to face the
risk of a licensing process prior to the time that the plant
would go into operation, and if you are trying to build a plant
and really needed that plant at a particular period of time,
there was a fair degree of regulatory uncertainty.
We all hope and expect that the changes were made, both by
the Congress and by the NRC, have now created a process where
you can really move a substantial part of that key
decisionmaking early on, fully ventilate the issues, but
approve the design, approve the site before you really need to
move ahead with building a plant so that once you make the
decision to build a plant you can get through the regulatory
process quickly and, most importantly, you will not face
significant uncertainty once the plant is largely completed,
and you have made the investment in the plant.
At that point, those of us on the financial side, those of
us on the company side want one thing, want the plant to go
into operation and run well on a predictable and timely basis.
The pebble bed design that Corbin described clearly does
have a number of attractive elements to it. You can build the
plants with smaller modules, so you are adding a smaller
increment of generating capacity, rather than 1,200 megawatts
at a time. The initial capital investment in the plant is
considerably smaller, and it enables the generating company to
say precisely what Corbin said earlier, my total commitment and
my total investment is $150 million. If things do not work out
as we expect they will, that is the limit of my risk and my
I think you could do the same thing with larger plants or
the evolutionary light water reactor designs, either the 600
megawatt plants, or conceivably either--or the larger ones, but
you probably need to bring in more project participants to
limit their individual exposure so that they can make that same
Mr. McNeill. I agree, and I think that is a very good
analysis. I think you need to put this in a context, however.
In many parts of the country today, the utility marketplace is
deregulated, and the large--my view is that the large reactors
fit very well in either regulated or controlled economies, and
that is why you see them being built in Japan, in Taiwan, in
China, because you are putting large increments of capacity
online at one time.
Much of that is excess capacity, and you are able to
recover your investment only because of the regulated stream of
revenue that comes with the rate regulation, so in a
deregulated environment, you need to bring in smaller
increments of capacity, such that you do not disturb market
prices drastically, because if you brought a big unit in the
line prices would drop to marginal cost pricing instead of full
recovery pricing, and you see a much better adaptation of a
deregulated marketplace in small modular reactors.
The shorter lead time, the 18- to 24-month construction
period, is facilitated by the fact that in this small modular
design much of the construction is done in factory
construction, which is much more quality controllable, much
more efficient in its manufacturing processes, and therefore
does not lead to as much inefficient, lost productivity that
you have seen in the construction of the large plants.
Senator Domenici. Mr. Rhodes, you mentioned in your
remarks, if I got it right, that maybe we needed some courage.
Perhaps that is what would put this into focus and perhaps get
us to proceed in the proper manner. Aside from that, which
wholeheartedly agree with, I do not have any problem in terms
of, if that means talk about something that is needed even if
people are going to disagree, and wholeheartedly, and stay with
it, we have some people prepared to do that.
But you must have, in your long involvement in this, seen
some other things that ought to be changed, as you see it,
which would bring on new powerplants for our future needs, here
and in the world.
Mr. Rhodes. One aspect of nuclear power that I think has
never been much discussed, but is a very crucial part of its
contribution, is its public health advantages. I suspect that
is because utilities that run nuclear powerplants frequently
also run coal plants, but when you look at the relative
benefits and risks in terms of health of a system that puts no
pollutants into the environment at all until the waste is
eventually retired, compared to one that processes so much
material that it necessarily pollutes.
In the case of coal, but also but in the case of natural
gas, and, indeed, even in the case of wind and solar systems,
when you count the necessary construction materials, the
advantages in terms of saving American lives simply has not
been discussed. Nuclear power has been perceived to be
something that is dangerous when, to the contrary, one can look
at the numbers and say, even if there were leakage from a waste
repository in 10,000 years, how do you balance that risk
against the fact that--this is a World Health Organization
number--that 3 million people die in the world every year from
indoor and outdoor air pollution.
So if that perspective were something that we might
consider a little bit. One of the participants in the
conference in Japan, who is the head of Cogema, the
reprocessing operation, suggested that what we need is an
authoritative world data base that looks at all the different
kinds of energy generation systems in terms of their economics,
their health, and all these other questions that we are
concerned with. Everyone, through, presumably, the Internet,
might have a place to go to, say, what is the advantage, what
is the disadvantage.
Senator Domenici. I am going to take a minute, and he is
going to take the chair, and I will be right back.
Chairman Murkowski. Thank you, Senator Domenici. I would
like to pose a question to Mr. Meserve and Mr. O'Neill relative
to Price-Anderson. We have got Price-Anderson in the
comprehensive energy bill, and that is going to be taken up
probably sometime--I am guessing prior to 4 July recess, but
again, I am guessing. The Energy Task Force report is going to
come out mid-month, this month. Do you have any views on
whether or not we should try and move legislation out
separately, or as part of the comprehensive bill? We all agree
it is necessary to the industry.
Mr. Meserve. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has endorsed
the notion of the renewal of the Price-Anderson Act. It is my
understanding that this is of great importance and interest to
the industry as well, that the Price-Anderson Act be renewed
early, and so I think perhaps moving it as a separate bill is
Let me add, if I may, Senator----
Chairman Murkowski. You see, the problem with moving it as
a separate bill around here is what you get with the bill,
particularly in this tied Senate.
Mr. Meserve. Yes. Well, I will not purport to be able to
second-guess your judgment on those matters, Senator.
Chairman Murkowski. If we try and move it, you folks are
going to have to be pretty active in trying to keep it clean,
otherwise you can drag it down in the process. That is what
worries me, but I agree with the importance.
Mr. McNeill. I know the industry would like to move it
along, whatever way I think you feel that it could move along
On a specific basis, for looking at new modular reactor
design, we need to find a way, whether it is legislatively or
an interpretation of the legislation, to make sure that small
modular designs are proportionately covered by the Price-
Anderson requirements, so that the fees that would be paid by a
modular individual plant would be proportionate to those paid
by a larger plant.
Mr. Meserve. Senator, if I may, there is one aspect of the
Price-Anderson Act that I would like to mention to you. I know
that several of the bills that are pending before the Senate
now include an NRC recommendation having to do with the
retrospective premium, a recommendation that it be increased
from $10 to $20 million.
That recommendation was made at a time when everybody
anticipated that the number of nuclear powerplants in the
United States would be drastically reduced over time, and that
therefore there was a need for that increase. That seems
unlikely to be necessary now. The Commission is reevaluating
that recommendation, and we will be submitting something to you
as to that recommendation shortly.
Chairman Murkowski. I appreciate that. I have one other
question, and that is for the Lehman Brothers gentleman, Mr.
James Asselstine, and it is relative to this hyperconsideration
on wholesale price caps, and my question to you is, do you
think the financial community would finance a nuclear plant if
wholesale price caps did not give you the flexibility to let
the market determine the rate structure, because we are seeing
a situation in California now where we have got some real
We have had retail caps, and clearly the result of that is
that Californians are subjected to an obligation as taxpayers
that ordinarily they would be subject to as ratepayers. They
are the same people. I hope they can figure out the difference,
or somebody can explain it to them, maybe the media in
California will take that obligation. They have not done a very
good job so far.
But my point is, specifically, what do wholesale price caps
do to you and your industry's willingness to finance
rejuvenation of the nuclear industry?
Mr. Asselstine. I think that whether it is nuclear or
nonnuclear generating asset probably does not matter that much.
Investors are going to want to have confidence, if they look at
financing a competitive generation asset, that that asset is
going to be able to earn a reasonable return in the market in
which they have to operate in.
We have seen a number of financings over the past couple of
years for competitive generation assets. They could be single
powerplants, or they can be generation companies.
Chairman Murkowski. Get specific, now, because I am going
to pin you down if you do not. Where do you get this level of
comfort, if you have wholesale price caps on?
Mr. Asselstine. It is very difficult if you have caps on,
particularly caps that would be there for an extended period of
time. We evaluate what the market looks like, and what we look
for is the ability to price power at a level that will allow a
Chairman Murkowski. So you are telling me it is where the
price cap is.
Mr. Asselstine. Or not having a cap at all, that is right,
and investors have been most comfortable with the competitive
generation markets that have operated as free markets, without
artificial restrictions, where you have price transparency, and
where we, as outsiders, can look at that market and gain
comfort in the way the market is running, and the best example
I can give you is the PJM pool. I personally believe that is
the best-functioning competitive market in the country today.
Chairman Murkowski. Why?
Mr. Asselstine. It is the largest market, it is very
liquid, you have a large number of participants in the market--
Chairman Murkowski. It has no price caps.
Mr. Asselstine. No price caps. You have a substantial
amount of base load generation in that pool that provides very
stable and steady pricing, and you have market mechanisms in
terms of allowing the participants to buy power directly from
Chairman Murkowski. So you have got competition, and you
have got overcapacity.
Mr. Asselstine. And a fair amount of capacity, that is
Chairman Murkowski. Yes, but when you do not have that,
which is what we are faced with in California, how do you
create it if you have wholesale price caps?
Mr. Asselstine. California is a particularly difficult
situation right now. You clearly need more generation built,
and you do not want to discourage it.
Chairman Murkowski. Well, what I want to try to do is get
the investment community to help us out one way or another
here, because we can beat our gums around and say, well, you
need this or that, but if you folks are not going to finance,
the State of California can put all the permits out in the
world and nobody is going to finance a plant if those price
caps are too tight in your evaluation to make a return on
investment. You folks need to tell us that.
Mr. McNeill. I think there is an important feature here.
What is being proposed at the State level in California is
basically rate-of-return regulation. They want to go back to
price caps for individual operators that represent their cost,
and if you really look at that, what that does is, it
discourages lower cost generation coming into the market,
because it will be treated just the same as other generation,
and what you really want to do, if you are going to set a price
cap, it is a uniform price cap, and it allows cheaper
generation to come in and get rewarded by getting a higher
return than it would have, which is the way normal markets
So I think the real issue is that--I know there is this
debate on whether price caps ought to be applied at all. If
they are applied, and I know there is a lot of political
pressure to do that, they should not be cost of--rate-of-return
or cost-of-generation based. They ought to be uniform price
caps across the whole spectrum.
Chairman Murkowski. And you have got to have them high
Mr. McNeill. That is correct.
Chairman Murkowski. What is high enough? We don't know.
Mr. McNeill. I will tell you. If my PBMR comes in at the
cost structure that we think, I will sign contracts that are 10
percent below what is existing in the marketplace today at
least, is what is being----
Chairman Murkowski. So you want a price cap that is 10
percent above, is that right? I mean, somebody tell us, for
heaven's sake. Do you expect us to know?
Senator Domenici. Well, they did not come here for that.
Chairman Murkowski. Just a minute, the gentleman from
Mr. Asselstine. I would like nothing better than to see a
solution to the problem.
Chairman Murkowski. Well, you have got to be part of the
solution by telling us what you are going to finance and what
you are not, because we sit around here and discuss the merits
of price caps, and California says, we have got all these
permits out there, and if you are not going to finance them, we
are both wasting our time.
Mr. Asselstine. If we are looking at financing a generating
investment, what we need to know is, where is the money going
to come from to pay us back, and is it going to be adequate,
and you can do that one of a couple of ways. You could sign a
contract with the State of California to sell the power to the
State at a fixed price, and you know what recovery you will get
from that. That is one alternative.
If you are not going to go that route and you are going to
sell power into the competitive marketplace, we will need
assurance that over time that marketplace will operate
efficiently and competitively, which means no caps, or caps
that clearly are not going to constrain the expected economic
performance of that plant.
Right now you have got a problem in California because it
is going to take 2 or 3 years to build the supply that is
really necessary to meet demand because of the failure to build
plants over the last several years. You need to figure out how
to bridge that gap without destroying that new plant investment
that is critical to solving the problem on a long-term basis.
Chairman Murkowski. Well, are we going to bridge that gap
if we put on wholesale price caps in California?
Mr. McNeill. If they are set high enough, I think you will.
Mr. Asselstine. If you set them too low, you will not.
Chairman Murkowski. Well, okay, but you know, we asked the
question of how high is high, and it is basically a return on
Mr. McNeill. On the most expensive plant.
Chairman Murkowski. Probably. Well, for example--and I am
going to conclude--Pennsylvania has 1,000, Texas has 1,000, but
they also have significant capacity and efficient plants. Would
that work in California today?
Mr. McNeill. Senator, if I could just make--Pennsylvania,
when power can be met inside of PJM the cap is 1,000. If they
have to go outside and import power, then the price is
Chairman Murkowski. Is that right?
Mr. McNeill. And that 1,000 is an artificial number,
because the computer will not accept a number greater than
$999.99. That is why that cap is there.
Chairman Murkowski. Thank you, Senator Domenici. As they
look to a solution from us----
Mr. McNeill. Well, you might use that solution, find
something that simple, that the computer will not take the
Senator Domenici. Thank you, Chairman. I am glad that such
an expert group was asked some of the most profound questions
of our day, and I thank you for the questions. I want to get
back to the nuclear, if I could, for just a minute. Let me talk
a minute with the chairman. First of all, we still have a big
issue with reference to America's effort to go on with a
permanent depository for spent fuel.
Whether one thinks it is right or wrong, whether we should
do it or not, the EPA Administrator, many people have
communicated with her in writing and otherwise about this
problem. I wrote to her in March, at the end of March, noting
that the draft EPA regulations for Yucca Mountain were severely
criticized by the National Academy for Sciences. No such
criticism, to my knowledge, was leveled by the academy against
the proposed NRC standards.
I suggested in my letter that the EPA and the NRC should be
working to harmonize these differences in standards, in
approaches to the standards. On April 26, the Administrator
reported that the EPA and the NRC, and I quote, ``are working
through an interagency process to determine the most
appropriate public health standard for Yucca Mountain.''
What is your view of the current interagency effort?
Mr. Meserve. Senator Domenici, there is an interagency
effort that is underway. The context for this was that, as
Secretary Browner was leaving the EPA, she had a proposed final
rule for Yucca Mountain that was submitted to OMB. With the new
administration coming in there has been discussion between EPA
and the Department of Energy and EPA and the NRC about issues
associated with that proposal, and those discussions are still
At this juncture, I personally do not have a sense as to
exactly how it is going to turn out. We have articulated views,
which I know you are familiar with, about the need for a
groundwater standard, and about the appropriate all-pathways
limit. The process of evaluating this matter is now underway in
the executive branch.
Senator Domenici. Well, I wanted some kind of notion
whether they were proceeding in a manner that might yield a
conclusion, or are we just standing at opposite sides of the
room yelling at each other?
Mr. Meserve. I would say that we certainly are not standing
on opposite sides of the room yelling at each other. I don't
want to suggest that there are no differences of views that are
expressed in this context, but I think that there is an effort
that is underway to try to find a satisfactory resolution.
Whether that will be achieved or not, I think it is too early
Senator Domenici. Okay. I want to make an observation
regarding your funding and new regulatory aspects of your
commission. You have the requests in to the appropriators
through the budget, and you will be called upon for your needs
as to dollars. We will try to take care of that in the
appropriation bill. I think you know that.
Mr. Meserve. Good. Thank you very much, Senator. We
Senator Domenici. My last question has to do with--first,
before I do that, Ms. MacLean, you have been listening here,
and you obviously are in the middle of nuclear energy and know
a lot about it. Do you want to contribute here? I will give you
a general question. From your knowledge and experience, what
would you like to tell the Senate we ought to do about nuclear
power to make it become a more realistic part of our energy
Ms. MacLean. I have been very encouraged over the past
couple of years at the progress we have made in talking about
nuclear. It has been an idea and a word that 6 years ago I
would not have even considered the possibility of bringing new
reactors to the market.
From my personal standpoint it would be an absolutely
thrilling job to be a part of a team that brings new reactor
technologies and new reactors of any kind to the market, and
part of what is necessary is making it possible for companies
that want to do that to be able to do it. At the same time, I
think we are facing a serious shortage of students. I know that
I have always been part of incredibly small departments, which
is nice as a student, you get that personal feel, but being a
graduating class of, I think, about eight people is not going
to sustain industry, and part of what we need is research
funding to get students into school and keep them in school. I
know that the fellowship program I have been a recipient of,
the DOE nuclear engineering fellowship, kept me in school. I am
not sure I would have been here, had it not been for that
But all of those things fit together, and funding
fellowships without funding research does not get us anywhere.
Funding research without supporting the industry will never
attract students, so being able to support both verbally, by
sending the message that we value the resource, and being able
to shore up our funds again I think are both very important.
Senator Domenici. Thank you very much.
My last question, then I will yield to my friend from
Idaho. For you, Mr. Rhodes, I, in introducing you, stated that
you have written a lot of books that people have read, and that
probably you have influenced them. In your travels you do sense
a growing optimism, I believe, for the re-birth of nuclear
energy. I think you have told us that.
Could I say, some of the critics argue that we have other
options as a Nation. They say that we can further improve
energy conservation, and that renewables are poised to take
over large-scale production of electricity. Based on your
studies--I do not want to say are those accurate statements,
but I do want to say, do you think that statement is realistic
with reference to solving the energy future for Americans?
Mr. Rhodes. Senator, I debated Amory Lovins recently in a
conference in Washington about nuclear proliferation, so I have
had recent experience with these arguments. Obviously,
efficiency and conservation are important. Obviously, they are
going to be more important as energy demand grows.
But we are adding a new California in terms of population
to the United States every 10 years, and I seriously doubt if
efficiency, as long as we want to live the way we live as
Americans, is going to get us there. It seems clear to me that
we have to move toward more capacity, more base load capacity
If you look at the numbers on the renewable systems that
are already in place, they are really pretty discouraging in
terms of capacity. The wind farm in Wisconsin that was built as
a result of the desire by the nuclear power industry to build
some dry cask storage had, I think, in one typical month about
13 percent capacity. These things are inherent in the problem
of collecting energy from diverse sources, obviously, not to
mention the hidden costs in developing the materials for those
dispersed collection systems in terms of air pollution in the
manufacturing of those materials.
So I think the answer to your question from my personal
perspective is, clearly we need more base load capacity, and
the only form of base load capacity that is really free of both
pollutants and of greenhouse gases is nuclear power.
Let me just add to that. You know, the question of the
linear no-threshold model is a very important one, as you well
know, Senator. In a sense, it has become the tail that wags the
dog. If it were understood that low-level radioactivity is
essentially harmless, and I think there is good evidence that
that is so, and may, indeed, even be beneficial, which is a
more controversial discussion, the problem of disposing of
spent fuel would suddenly be trivial. We have this problem
because the standards that are being discussed are so very low,
much, much lower than the natural diversity of radiation in our
So settling, or at least renewing the debate scientifically
about the linear no-threshold theory is a very important part
of these future possible developments.
Senator Domenici. Thank you very much.
Senator Craig. A couple of questions, and I will not hold
any of you here any longer.
First of all, I notice that you spent some time in Idaho at
Ms. MacLean. Yes, I have.
Senator Craig. I hope that was a meaningful experience for
Ms. MacLean. The people that I worked with through the lab
have been great. We have had a lot of very positive
interactions. One of the reasons I chose the project that I am
working on, which is design of pebble bed reactor, is because
of the involvement of the national labs. Because they were
involved there were other scientists interested. It elevated
its importance in my mind. It was not just somebody's pie-in-
the-sky idea. It was an actual project that had serious
interest from the Government and from the labs.
Senator Craig. Mr. McNeill, in your view--I am going to
play off from what Heather has just said. How do DOE's national
laboratories fit into the research picture for advanced nuclear
design, and do you think the labs should be looking beyond
technologies such as pebble bed to even more advanced concepts,
so-called Generation 4 type designs?
Mr. McNeill. As you know, from a corporate interest, my
interest is in making profit serving humanity in the selling of
electricity, and I tend to look at the shorter-term ideas.
There is a place--in fact, I think we have had some
discussions with DOE about the testing of fuel designs
associated with the pebble bed reactor in the United States
here. There has not been a great deal of testing of that,
although there has been extensive testing in Germany, and
Russia, and I think now some in China, and we have been
exploring with DOE the possibility of doing some testing here
in the United States in that field, so that is one immediate
application with respect to U.S. research interest.
The second thing is, I do believe that in the longer term,
as you move beyond these advanced designs that we are talking
about here today that, given world energy needs, the longevity
of energy consumption, there may, in fact, be needs for
continued liquid metal reactor research, because they do offer
some advances in terms of automated refueling processing using
metallic fuels and things of that nature that offer almost a
complete fuel cycle with the generation of only modest amounts
of radioactive waste when we get done, so I do not want to
discourage that. It is just that my near-term interests tend to
be more commercial in nature.
Senator Craig. Well, of course, in the long term, to be
able to not only use more of the energy source available, but
to use it in a way that produces less of a waste stream has got
to be part of what we look at.
Mr. Chairman, in your testimony, you discussed the role
that research needs to play in laying the groundwork for
licensing these advanced reactor designs such as the pebble
bed. What role should the Office of Research within the NRC be
playing in this process, and is the NRC's research staff
involved in the future licensing project organization which you
describe in your testimony?
Mr. Meserve. We have recently had the benefit of an
evaluation of research at the NRC and John Ahearne was a
participant in that exercise. In a nutshell, the group as a
whole saw that research was an essential ingredient to enable
us to fulfill our mission in assuring safety, and in particular
with regard to advanced reactors. Because of the fact that
advanced reactors raise issues that are at the technical
forefront, and that we need to understand, we have a group
within our research organization that is very much involved in
In fact, the people from Exelon were in to visit with NRC
this week, and had a meeting that was sponsored by our research
organization, in order to discuss a variety of the issues
associated in particular with the pebble bed reactor. Our
research staff are very actively involved in this process, and
it is essential that they be involved.
Senator Domenici. Senator, could I just indicate that I am
going to leave, and you are in control. I want to thank all of
you very much for your testimony and for your help.
Senator Craig. Yes, John.
Dr. Ahearne. I just want to point out that just as DOE's
research budget has shrank to close to disappearances, the
NRC's research budget also went to a free fall and decline, and
I think part of that was based upon when the decision was made
that the NRC had to recover all of its cost from fees and
licensees, it is difficult to justify the fundamental
preparation research necessary, and I think that is the real
Now, when you come in with basically a newer type design,
such as the pebble bed--they ran into the same problems some
years ago when the can-do people were interested in perhaps
getting a review. The staff has to have time in advance to work
through and develop the necessary review codes and analysis.
That takes money.
Senator Craig. Yes.
Gentlemen, lady, thank you all very much for your testimony
and your presence. I am excited, as I think most of us are, of
an opportunity to produce some clean energy for our country.
Thank you for coming.
The committee will stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:02 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
[Following is the answer of Chairman Meserve to a question
from Senator Domenici:]
Question. Would you please provide for the record, the NRC views on
needs for funding to develop a research basis in support of licensing
requests for new technologies, including new reactor concepts. I've
been concerned that the NRC, with its current reliance solely on user-
generated fees, may have been forced to sacrifice this forward-looking
component of your capabilities. And it's hard to justify such
development from user fees when the requests have not come in yet.
Answer. The NRC's FY 2002 budget request includes some funds to
evaluate new technologies as they apply to existing operating reactors.
This includes funding for certain new technology applications, such as:
1) advanced fuel and cladding designs, 2) digital instrumentation and
control systems, and advanced sensor equipment, 3) techniques for
evaluating the condition of existing wiring systems and potential
replacement wiring materials, 4) management of spent fuel, and 5) risk
assessments of new technologies. This research is generally focused on
near term applications. However, the NRC's FY 2002 budget does not
include funding for more forward looking research in these areas or for
other new technology applications.
Subsequent to submission of the NRC's FY 2002 budget request,
considerable industry interest and activity has developed with respect
to new reactor siting, new reactor concepts, and the new technologies
upon which they are based. Since there was no indication of serious
industry interest in new reactor licensing activities at the time our
FY 2002 budget was developed, it does not include resources to develop
a research basis to evaluate licensing requests for new reactor
concepts and facility siting reviews. As described in response to
question 2, the NRC's preliminary estimate of resources to review early
site permit applications, conduct pre-application and license review
activities, and begin to assess the advanced technologies being
considered by industry is approximately $15-18 million. This includes
approximately $12 million for research related to new reactor licensing
These research resources would support the initial evaluation of
new data and technology in the pre-application phase to understand the
new designs and technology, and would allow the NRC to identify the
needed infrastructure for evaluation of license applications as well as
support the development of analytical tools and data, review guidance,
and expertise to facilitate regulatory action.