July 30, 1998

Senate Oversight Hearing on NRC is a Fraud

This oversight hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the Senate Subcommittee on Nuclear Safety is a fraud. This fraud becomes transparent in an examination of the junkets financed by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the well-funded lobbying arm of the nuclear industry. The examination, Irradiated Las Vegas Junkets, reveals that the Environment and Public Works Committee Counsel, Andrew Wheeler, received two trips from the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Mr. Wheeler enjoyed an all-expense-paid-trip to Las Vegas for a fact-finding tour of Yucca Mountain, the potential repository site for high level nuclear waste. His accommodations in Las Vegas, Nev., were not lacking if he stayed in the same hotel other Congressional staffers used on their trips to Yucca Mountain. On at least one occasion staffers stayed at the Rio Suite Casino Resort, a five-star hotel, with a sandy beach by the pool, 15 restaurants, the Copacabana Showroom, golf course, 20 retails stores and the world?s largest public wine collection.

"The nuclear industry should not be funding trips for Congressional staff. This outrageous practice is nothing more than another avenue to subvert the democratic process," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project.

Wheeler also received a junket to New Orleans for the purpose of touring the Waterford nuclear power plant. His stay just happened to coincide with the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, where he stayed at the four-star Westin Canal Place Hotel in the French Quarter, offering a heated rooftop pool, complete health club facilities and a marble bath.

"Mr. Wheeler is only a small part of the problem because the whole system is corrupt," said Auke Piersma, energy policy analyst with Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project. "However, there are several reactors within driving distance of Washington, D.C., he could have visited. But they probably didn?t have any jazz music playing."

This efforts comes at a time when deregulation of the electric utility industry will cause many nuclear utilities to cut corners on nuclear safety. A Public Citizen report released earlier this year, Questioning the Authority, showed that 42 reactors were non-competitive in their regions.

"In a time of deregulated markets the nuclear utilities will be hemorrhaging large sums of money from the operation of these white elephants and their operators will be under great pressure to stop the bleeding. Our concern is that the safety programs will be the first to go," Hauter said.

The Senate Subcommittee on Nuclear Safety is holding this oversight hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the unstated purpose of sending a message to the NRC that they over-regulate. The Commission has already bowed to this Committee by removing five plants from NRC?s Watch List, the nation?s most problem-plagued reactors.

"This hearing should have happened a year ago when the Millstone fiasco occurred," said Jim Riccio, staff attorney with Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project. "The hearing?s focus should have been on the lack enforcement by the NRC and the resultant shutdowns throughout New England."

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