Nunzio J. Palladino breezed through Senate confirmation hearings yesterday on his nomination to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, charming the Environment and Public Works Committee with a noncontroversial approach to a job that all sides agree will be mostly thankless.
"You've done some exciting things in your life," said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.Mex.). "I still wonder why you would want this job."
Committee Chairman Sen. yrobert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) noted that Palladino takes over the NRC in "one of the more difficult periods of its history," and Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) said he would address Palladino by his academic title of "Dean Palladino, because pretty soon others will call you everything in the book."
Palladino, 64, is dean of the Pennsylvania State University college in nuclear design and safety monitoring. His priorities as chairman of the troubled NRC, he said, will be to streamline further the process of licensing new nuclear power plants, to estabalish routine monitoring of plants now inoperation, study unresolved safety issues and seek a solution to the problem of nuclear waste.
"We have delayed far too long in coping with the waste disposal issue," although several promising techniques are available, he said. "I believe it is time to implement some of them in some demonstration projects."
Asked about the fiancial problems stalling cleanup at the damaged Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania, Palladino suggested that the government might offer loan guarantees "to help the owners get better credit." He resisted a suggestion from Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) that the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission caused the utility's financial distress, recommending instead that all interested parties jointly discuss ways to deal with it.
"The best way to cover the cleanup costs is to have the current owners remain solvent," Palladino said. He added it is "essential" for operating reactors to be fully insured hereafter against the cleanup costs of future accidents, and that the adequacy of coverage should be reviewed every three years.
Legislation setting up such an insurance scheme is pending in Congress.
Palladino defended the NRC's role in determining the safety of nuclear power plants destined for export, but granted that the Department of State could have total jurisdiction in some cases. "It depends on the specific proposal," he said.
Palladino, a native of Allentown, Pa., studied nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee and worked in nuclear core design for the Westinghouse Corp. for 20 years before going to Penn State. He was in charge of designing the Nautilus nuclear submarine reactor and the first commercial demonstration reactor at Shippingport, Pa.
Dean of Penn State's college of engineering since 1966, Palladino was on the NRC's Advisory Committee on Nuclear Safeguards, a technical advisory bodt, from 1964 to 1974 and chaired the group for one year.
The Americans for Nuclear Energy group supported Palladino's nomination as the only witness at the hearing. Richard Pollack, energy policy director for Ralph Nader's Public Citizen organization, criticized Palladino in an interview as "an apologist for the nuclear industry."