The recent partial shutdown of the federal government caused concern at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), which feared that furloughs at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) could hurt refueling outages at power reactors this fall.
In an Oct. 3 letter to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel expressed concern that NRC furloughs might hinder clearance for hundreds of contract workers that come onto nuclear plant sites during regular refueling and maintenance outages.
In the letter, Fertel said he was concerned about NRC ability to provide fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) so that criminal background checks can be completed for individuals who need unescorted access. Federal law prohibits the private sector from submitting prints directly to the FBI.
“We are extremely concerned that the criminal background check process will no longer be available when the NRC is forced to operate at reduced staff levels,” Fertel said. “Thus, I am requesting that you consider reassessing the core of employees who will remain on duty to include those who facilitate access authorization activities.”
More than 20 U.S. nuclear units are scheduled for outages this fall, Fertel said. In addition to hurting the nation’s electric supply, the nuclear plant operators could face financial loss of more than $500,000 per day for each day of delay, the NEI official said.
In an Oct. 11 reply letter, NRC’s Macfarlane assured Fertel that criminal background history work would not be interrupted.
The administration of requests for criminal history background checks is funded by processing fees, Macfarlane said. The NRC is authorized to use the reimbursements to pay the Department of Justice for the background checks and to offset NRC’s costs in running the program, Macfarlane said.
“Accordingly, the NRC expects to continue this activity without interruption through any foreseeable lapse in appropriation,” Macfarlane said in her reply letter.
The two letters were posted on the document section of the NRC website Oct. 21.
NRC was less affected by the government shutdown than many agencies. While the partial shutdown started Oct. 1, NRC was able to use supplement funds to avoid furloughs until Oct. 10. Federal agencies all started returning to work Oct. 17 after Congress voted late Oct. 16 to approve a continuing resolution to reopen the government.