The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to revise the way it approaches potential furloughs in any future “lapse” in funding, such as the recent partial government shutdown.
The head of the U.S. nuclear industry lobby believes that nuclear power’s importance to grid reliability justifies more NRC staffers staying on the job in future government shutdowns.
For starters, the trade group believes that NRC could have probably kept more of its people on the job once furloughs commenced in October. NRC employees spent less time on furlough than many other federal agencies thanks in part to having some funds in reserve.
In an Oct. 29 letter to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel questioned NRC’s decision to furlough almost 3,600 of the roughly 3,900-member NRC staff. “Other federal government agencies, many of which do not directly regulate safety, apparently allowed a much greater percentage of personnel to continue working than did the NRC,” Fertel said.
The Cable News Network (CNN) reported that only 36% of federal employees – excluding uniformed military and civilian defense employees – were furloughed, Fertel said. “In comparison, the NRC furloughed more than 90 percent of its workforce,” the NEI official added.
“We believe that most, if not all, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation personnel in the divisions of Safety Systems, Engineering, Operating Reactor Licensing, Risk Assessment, and Inspection and Regional Support should have been permitted to continue to perform their duties,” Fertel said.
“Finally, as you and your colleagues review the agency’s shutdown plan, we urge you not to lose sight of the fact that the NRC recovers virtually all of its overhead costs through annual license fees” collected from nuclear companies. “During a federal government shutdown, those fees continue to be collected, although no generic services are provided, Fertel said in the letter.
Fertel urged NRC to engage Congress and the White House to seek relief that would allow fee-based work to continue during the shutdown.
“Although it would be preferable not to have occasion to implement the agency’s shutdown plan, the industry believes it is nevertheless important to revise the plant should it again become necessary to use it,” Fertel said.