Alexander: Building Chickamauga Lock “Urgent;” Urges Regular Nuclear Oversight Hearings

Urges TVA nominee to use unused electrical capacity at night to fuel electric vehicles

Posted on May 26, 2011

“We’ve got enough fuel sitting on the sidelines in terms of unused electricity capacity at night to power 40 percent of our cars and trucks at a lower cost without using oil.”

– Lamar Alexander  

WASHINGTON – At a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) asked nominees to the TVA Board, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Army Corps about issues important to Tennessee, including TVA’s mission and goals; the safety of Tennessee’s nuclear plants; and the safety and future of Chickamauga Lock.

The hearing was held on the nominations of Richard C. Howorth to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority; William C. Ostendorff to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick to be Chief of Engineers/Commanding General of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Alexander made the following statements during the hearing:

On TVA’s future: “While most of TVA serves Tennessee, it serves six other states in important ways, and it strengthens TVA to have strong nominees from other states. I’ll be looking forward to talking with Mr. Howorth about what his thought is about the mission of TVA today and, especially in light of $4 gasoline prices, what we can do to encourage the use of electric cars and trucks.”

On nuclear energy: “It’s important that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have strong leaders – people who are not afraid of nuclear power, but are not afraid also to ask tough questions about it and make sure that our plants are operated safely as they have been. I think it’s always important, particularly in light of the tragedy in Japan, that we remember that the nuclear reactors that Mr. Ostendorff worked on when he was in the navy – there are 104 of them today; there’s  never been a fatality while operating them since the 1950’s. And there’s never been a fatality in any of the civilian reactors. We have 104 of those, and we want to keep it that way. So that’s why I’m glad Mr. Ostendorff is here.”

On Chickamauga Lock: “The Chickamauga Lock matters to Tennesseans. It’s crumbling. It will have to close in a few years if it’s not fixed, and nothing’s happening there. And my question is: Why is that not on the priority list, number one, and number two, why did the Corps walk away from a proposal by industry to raise fees on itself to put enough water in the Inland Waterway Trust Fund to be able to move ahead with a very needed project like the Chickamauga Lock. And if the Corps is going to walk away from a proposal by industry to basically tax itself, then what’s the Corps’ proposal for dealing with these urgent projects?”

The text of Sen. Alexander’s opening statement and questions follows:

“Thanks Madam Chair, I want to thank the President for three excellent nominations today. First, for the Tennessee Valley Authority. While most of TVA serves Tennessee, it serves other states in important ways, and it strengthens TVA to have strong nominees from other states. I’ll be looking forward to talking with Mr. Howorth about what his thought is about the mission of TVA today and, especially in light of the $4 gasoline prices, what we can do to encourage the use of electric cars and trucks.

“TVA is a federal utility. It ought to be a model for the rest of the country, and it’s astonishing to me that we sit here worrying about $4 gasoline when we’ve got enough fuel sitting on the sidelines in terms of unused electricity capacity at night, which could power 40 percent of our cars and trucks at a lower cost without using oil. A big utility like TVA ought to be able to do something about that.

“As far as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mr. Ostendorff has been twice in the last year to the only nuclear reactor in America currently under construction, and that’s in the TVA system at Watts Bar. And I’ll be interested in talking with him about his sense of the progress there and the interaction of that with the TVA decisions. For example, TVA has just decided to close some coal plants and put pollution control equipment on others, and if it does that, where will it get its energy? It’ll have to come from nuclear power.

“So TVA is, at the same time, a leader in the country on nuclear power, a leader in the country on energy efficiency, and a leader in the country on clean air because of the number of pollution control devices it’ll be placing on its coal plants by 2020. And it’s important that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have strong leaderships – people who are not afraid of nuclear power, but are not afraid also to ask tough questions about it and make sure that our plants are operated safely, as they have been. I think it’s always important, particularly in light of the tragedy in Japan, that we remember that the nuclear reactors that Mr. Ostendorff worked on when he was in the navy – there are 104 of them today; there’s  never been a fatality since the 1950’s. And there’s never been a fatality in any of the civilian reactors. We have 104 of those, and we want to keep it that way. So that’s why I’m glad Mr. Ostendorff is here.

“I want to also welcome Mr. Howorth‘s family, whom I had a chance to meet earlier. General Bostick, I thank you for your willingness to take on this responsibility, and I want to congratulate the Corps of Engineers for what in my judgment is an excellent job of management of the Mississippi River during the last several weeks. That hasn’t been easy for a lot of families that have been hurt by the flooding, but that wasn’t the corps’ fault. The corps managed things well, and the levees seem to be working in Memphis and apparently in New Orleans and other places. Colonel Reichling and others have done a good job and I want to thank you for that because I know the corps gets lots of advice and comments.

“One thing I want to be asking you about – and I hope you’ll be thinking about it – is the Inland Waterway Trust Fund and the Chickamauga Lock is an example. We all ask about the locks and the harbors that matter to us, and the Chickamauga matters to Tennesseans. It’s crumbling. It will have to close in a few years if it’s not fixed, and nothing’s happening there. And my question is: Why is that not on the priority list, number one, and number two, why did the corps walk away from a proposal by industry to raise fees on itself to put enough water in the Inland Waterway Trust Fund to be able to move ahead with very needed project like the Chickamauga. And if the corps is going to walk away from a proposal by industry to basically tax itself, then what’s the corps’ proposal for dealing with these urgent projects? I want to ask about that when the time comes.

“But I thank you Madame Chair, I think these are three excellent nominations. I look forward to supporting them and to having a chance to ask questions of the three of them.”

To Ostendorff:

Alexander: “Mr. Ostendorff, you have gone twice in the last year to the only reactor being built in the United States today, in Watts Barr. I was there when you were there a month or so ago; one reactor was operating; another was being built. Based on what you have seen in those two visits, is the reactor being operated in a safe manner, and is the new reactor being built on time and on schedule?

Ostendorff: Senator, I’d say yes to both questions. I think the Watts Barr Unit 1 operation is being done safely and properly, as the assessment of our NRC resident inspectors and our oversight team. With respect to the construction of Unit 2, I think that’s proceeding in a professional manner, and I’m not aware of there being any concerns from our staff as to the proper quality assurance or soundness of the construction currently underway.

Alexander: “Thank you. Madame Chair, I notice you’re planning a nuclear oversight hearing next month. Senator Cardin had a good hearing some time ago with his subcommittee. I’d like to suggest we have more hearings on oversight of nuclear power. I mean, we have two objectives here. One is to begin building nuclear power plants again, because at least half of the ones we have are going to wear out before very long, and we need to build new ones for that purpose and to expand. And second, to make sure they’re operating safely. I think the more people understand and hear about nuclear power, the more confidence they have in it and the more likely we are to correct mistakes that are being made. So I think that hauling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, once a quarter, before a subcommittee might be a useful way to move us toward a nuclear plant construction program and to convince Americans and assure ourselves that they’re being operated safely.

To Lt. Gen Bostick:

Alexander: “I noticed committee members are arranging your travel schedule and I’d be glad to get in line for that because I’d like for you to come to Chattanooga and see the Chickamauga Lock, which, if it closes--which it will do if it’s not replaced--will put 100,000 trucks on I-75 and will seriously interfere with cargo shipments to not only to TVA and Oak Ridge, but to the Nuclear Weapons Compound at Y-12.

“So what I would ask you to do is: One: consider visiting Chickamauga Lock; two: consider whether it’s a new start or not, we think it’s not a new start since cofferdam is already built; three: consider the security impacts of the traffic that’s moving up the Tennessee River to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 nuclear compound. And then finally, I hope you and your associates will look at the decision last year by the Corps to turn down the plan from the industry to tax themselves to put money in the Inland Waterway Trust Fund to build projects like Chickamauga Lock--why you turned that down, and if you turned it down, what your substitute is? Right now all our money’s being spent on a lock in Kentucky, on which we’ve already spent $1.6 billion and they say we’re going to spend $3 billion. There’s no money for anything else. So if the industry is willing to tax itself to provide money for Chickamauga and other places, then what’s your plan?”

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