Inhofe says NRC funding should not be ‘unlimited’

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wasted no time in setting a more tight-fisted approach to nuclear oversight than his predecessor when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) came before the panel on April 15 to discuss NRC’s budget.

While the GOP was in the Senate minority in recent years, prior Chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) often questioned NRC commissioners on whether everything was being done to minimize the risk of a Fukushima-type disaster occurring in the United States.

“The NRC’s mission is a vital one and must be adequately funded. I want our nuclear plants to be safe and they are safe,” Inhofe said in his opening statement. “However, resources are not unlimited. As the size of our nuclear industry shrinks, the NRC must recognize that it can accomplish its mission with fewer resources,” the GOP chairman added.

“What we have seen over time is an agency that has grown in spite of a decreasing workload and now, unfortunately, a shrinking industry,” Inhofe said.

Outlining positions that he has expressed in the past, Inhofe said that NRC’s footprint has grown as a result of events like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 along with a projected wave of new nuclear plant development that has yet to materialize on a large scale. 

For fiscal year 2016, the NRC is requesting a budget of $1.032bn and 3,754 employees to oversee 100 reactors and review 900 licensing actions, Inhofe said.

“After an increase of $363 million and 646 employees, the NRC is struggling with a backlog to review 40 percent fewer licensing actions,” Inhofe said.

“What we have seen over time is an agency that has grown in spite of a decreasing workload and now, unfortunately, a shrinking industry,” Inhofe said.

The Oklahoma Republican said that NRC has recognized the need to “right-size” the nuclear agency and the so-called Project 2020 is “a nice start.” But “I’ve seen the NRC accomplish more with less so I know it can do better,” Inhofe said.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to delay making changes to the agency’s size and numbers until 2020.  Certainly, the 2016 budget heads in the wrong direction,” Inhofe said.

NRC dealing with many changes, Burns says

“In FY 2016 the NRC has requested funding to review nine new reactor license applications and complete three of these reviews,” NRC Chairman Stephen Burns said during his opening statement.

“Additionally, the FY2016 budget supports conducting inspections for four new reactors under construction — Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Units 3 and 4, and Virgil C. Summer, Units 2 and 3,” Burns said of the new units being developed by subsidiaries of Southern (NYSE:SO) and SCANA (NYSE:SCG) along with their partners.

NRC is also gearing up for potential submission of small modular reactor (SMR) applications, Burns said.

The NRC chairman did acknowledge that most of the 26 nuclear plant license applications received a few years ago have been either withdrawn or temporarily suspended at the request of the applicants.

NRC has also been dealing with the impact of certain federal appeals court rulings in the past couple of years, Burns said.

For example, NRC had to suspend processing of various licenses and license renewal proceedings until the agency produced a generic environmental impact statement (EIS) that showed that spent fuel can continue to be stored onsite at nuclear reactors for decades.

In addition, a federal appeals court ordered NRC to resume processing, to the extent that funding allows, for the Department of Energy (DOE) license application for a national nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

In January 2015, the staff completed and published the final volumes of the Safety Evaluation Report. In the report, the staff concluded that DOE’s application met regulatory requirements, except for certain requirements related to ownership of land and water rights. A supplement to DOE’s environmental impact statement has not yet been completed, Burn said.

For her part, Sen. Boxer said NRC must continue to be vigilant in ensuring nuclear power safety.

“The only way that nuclear energy can remain a vibrant part of our energy mix is if it has the confidence of the public,” Boxer said.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that not a single one of the 12 key safety recommendations made by the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force has been implemented at nuclear reactors in this country,” Boxer went on to say.

 

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.