Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jim Inhofe is Posturing Pointlessly

Well, Senator James Inhofe is at it again, posturing for political gain to no useful purpose. Along with Senator David Vitter, with whom Inhofe serves on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe sent a letter to Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The purpose of the letter concerns an exchange between House Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee Fred Upton, and NRC spokesman Scott Burnell, the latter of whom I interviewed in the course of my research project this past fall.

According to the NRC article that Inhofe and Vitter attached to their letter, Upton questioned why the license renewal review process for recertifying existant nuclear plants was taking so long, in some cases up to five years, when NRC documents generally have a maximum of 30 months and an average of 22. Burnell replied by saying that the extended reviews aren't typical; as Inhofe and Vitter cite in their letter, the NRC has granted 20-year extensions to 61 nuclear plants in the last 13 years. The delays have been caused by lawsuits, "multiple filings of contentions, appeals and the remainder of the hearing process," which rather understandably consume more time. Burnell also notes that the "technical reviews have... taken the usual amount of time", meaning that the delays have come solely from the lawsuits against recertification at individual plants. "In cases where local opposition has been minimal or non-existent, the NRC has indeed kept to the average 22-month review schedules."

So far, so straightforward, right? Not to Inhofe and Vitter. Their letter charges that the NRC has adopted a double standard for plant renewals that face significant opposition and those that don't. They go on to ask, rather slimily, when this double standard was adopted, how the NRC is legally justified in adopting it and why it was adopted in the first place.

There's just one problem: the so-called double standard is explained by common sense. If there is an outstanding legal challenge to a recertification application, the application can't be approved until the challenge is resolved. This is not complicated. If the challenge is still working its way through the courts, the application can't go through. Everything else is irrelevant. If Inhofe and Vitter had provided examples of an application that was delayed after the legal challenges had been resolved, their claims might have some merit. But they don't and, well, they don't. It's hard to take the letter as much more then empty posturing to show that the senators in question are doing something about this 'issue' and are hard-line nuclear energy types.

Mind you, this is the same Jim Inhofe who thinks global warming is a "hoax", who holds the traditional Republican line on LGBT rights, and who habitually attacks science journalists whose views clash with his own.

Oh, and the number of plants that have had these five-year delays?


Why is this an issue, again? Oh, wait, it isn't. Inhofe is making something out of nothing, as he often claims that supporters of global warming do. How appropriate.

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