Alexander Outlines Lessons Oil Regulators Could Learn From Nuclear Regulators

Says Gulf Oil Spill Should Spur Congress to Move Rapidly Toward Clean Energy

Posted on May 11, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today addressed oil industry executives who testified at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), of which he is a member, about the impact of the Gulf oil leak. Senator Alexander suggested that they could learn from regulators in the nuclear industry.

“We need to stop the spill, repair the damage and find out what happened,” Alexander said, and then recognized that “all forms of energy have risks. Connecticut knows about gas plants blowing up, West Virginia knows about coal-mine tragedies, and Tennessee knows about coal-ash spills. And even with some of the cleaner forms of energy, the American Bird Conservancy would want us to remember that the 25,000 wind turbines we have in America kill 275,000 birds a year, and one wind farm in California killed 90 Golden Eagles in one year. This latest tragedy in the Gulf should spur us more rapidly toward clean energy, but for the foreseeable future, we are still going to have to rely on oil.”

Senator Alexander then outlined several lessons the oil industry could learn from the nuclear power industry. “I think oil regulators have some things to learn from nuclear regulators. First, the number of people who have died from a nuclear accident at a commercial plant in the United States is zero.  And the number of sailors in our Navy who have died in an incident related to the nuclear reactor powering their vessel is also zero.

“Is the regulatory responsibility for oil spread too thin?” Alexander asked.  “There are fourteen agencies that look after oil.  One—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)—looks after nuclear power.

“There’s also the question of accountability,” Alexander continued.  “The Navy has a remarkable safety record operating nuclear reactors because of accountability—every officer knows that his mistakes will be carried with him throughout his career. Maybe we need some of that accountability in the oil industry.

“Finally, the nuclear industry has shown that safety can be efficient as well as cheap. We now run our nuclear reactors more often than anybody in the world, 90 percent of the time, and it’s efficient and cheap. So, I think there are lessons we can learn from the nuclear industry.”

Last year, Alexander introduced the Clean Energy Act with Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) to promote investment and development in clean energy technologies, especially nuclear power.  He also recently released a book – Going to War in Sailboats: Why Nuclear Power Beats Windmills for America’s Green Energy Future – which can be downloaded for free here.