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Time to Fix the NRC Funding Problem

The nuclear renaissance will get stopped in its tracks if the NRC doesn't have the resources to get the job done -- so Lynn Weaver, president emeritus of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, has a suggestion:
The reason for the licensing delay is simple and straightforward: a critical shortage of manpower, which is expected to become acute within a year, at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC knows that it needs to expand its work force, because it's facing a flood of regulatory reviews for new nuclear plants and existing plants that are seeking a renewal of their operating licenses. But it doesn't have the money.

Congress is bogged down in a dispute over federal spending. It passed only two of the 11 spending bills for the fiscal year that began last October, those covering defense and homeland security. The rest of the government is operating under a continuing resolution that holds spending to last year's levels. As a result, the NRC's budget is lower by $95 million, or 12 percent, compared with the level approved by both the House and Senate appropriations committees but not the full House.


The best thing Congress could do now is to break the budget impasse and provide the NRC with the additional funds it needs. The House and Senate must stop the partisan bickering that's having a crippling effect on the ability of the NRC and other government agencies to perform their jobs.
For a previous post on this topic, click here.

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Starvid, Sweden said…
Why does licensing take so long time?

Consider the Vogtle site. Two AP1000 are slated for construction there. The AP1000 has already been given green light by the NRC and should not pose any problems. And the Vogtle site already house two reactors and should hence, by definition, be fit for nuclear reactors.

Ok, AP1000 I see, that design is licensed *stamps paper* and hmm, yes Vogtle, already two reactors so that must be okay, *stamps second paper*, ok Mr. Duke Energy Executive, you may build your reactors.

How can that procedure take several years?

Can the NEI answer this question?
I'm obviously not associated with NEI, but I'll give it a shot:

What makes that situation even more absurd is that Vogtle was designed for four reactors and currently has two. The NRC approved construction permits for four reactors, and the environmental impact statement was based on four reactors. Building two AP-1000s, as far as I know, would not exceed the limits of the original environmental impact statement.

In my opinion, a great way to streamline the process would be to file an environmental impact statement at the start of the project that is valid forever, subject to changes in certain parameters at the site. Any construction permits or combined construction and operating licenses would then cite this EIS, so that it would not have to be repeated again. In this case, the AP-1000 is already certified, two are within the EIS's limits, and the COL would be signed and issued to Duke on Monday morning at about 9:02 AM. But that would make too much sense.

As it stands, the new licensing process accommodates standardized designs better (but not perfectly) and lowers the probability that a single loony group with enough lawyers can get a project canceled, but still leaves a bunch of holes open. This is just one of them; if I were an anti-nuclear activist, I'd try to pack the southeastern PUCs if nothing else, and you'd end up with a bunch of Shorehams. If the current system is continued as-is, there's going to be a logjam, and 1-2 reactors of 30-40 will get through. The anti-nuclear activists are more organized than they used to be, they still have their base of support and political machine, and will be a huge obstacle.

Somehow I don't think "the NRC has already made a FONSI in this case; thus, the NRC should automatically grant the COL effective immediately upon Duke Energy's written request" is an admissible contention. Does anyone know if it is? Has anyone ever tried it?
Since the net result would be a new power reactor licensing without a single public hearing, the term "political uproar" occurs to me. I think that's probably a bit too much to ask.
Gunter said…

Another clear reason to abandon new reactor licensing as an absurd waste of precious time to abate rapid climate change...

The recent GAO report cites that about one-third of the NRC workforce with mission critical skills will be eligible for retirement in the next four years---just when its supposed to be revving up a licensing armada and necessarily increase its oversight of the existing 104 aging reactors that are embrittling, erroding, corroding and cracking.

An already obvious exodus from NRC
over the past five years will be accelerating along with the melting of the polar caps.

Moreover,there is no demonstration that a transfusion of new blood will arrive in time, if ever.

Meanwhile, NRC is steadily shifting its remaining personnel over to licensing from its critical mission of safety oversight of an aging nuke fleet.

Its long over due for Congress to take the industry's ring out of the agency's nose and refocus NRC's staff mission on its mandate to enforce oversight of industry safety and aging issues.

Gunter, NIRS
Anonymous said…
Give it a rest Gunter. Your urban legends are sounding increasingly strained and feeble.

The nuclear fleet is in fine form, with total output and capacity factors that you can only dream about with wind, solar, or whatever biomass you'd like to burn. Nuclear plants routinely operate for a year, or a year and a half, at 100% of full power. The occupational safety record is so good that it compares to the banking and insurance industries. No other industry understands operational risk like the nuclear power industry does.

If you think the NRC has the industry's nose in its ring, you really need to get a grip on reality. That's just silly. You've obviously never sat across a table and looked a staff member in the eye.

Yes, the licensing process must be streamlined. What makes you think this can't be done?

The NRC and the nuclear industry as a whole will find people to fill the needed positions in the same way that any institution fills its positions. Being eligible for retirement is not the same thing as being unable to work. Some of these people will stay on, regardless of age; working at the NRC is not especially arduous or dangerous, like coal mining or installing rooftop solar panels.

Nuclear engineering programs are filling up with fresh faces. Mechanical or chemical engineers who might have a choice of any number of industries will again begin to think about working in nuclear power. People will leave other lines of work. We built 100 reactors in 20 years, starting from nothing. I'm sure we can do even much more this time around.
David Bradish said…

If you want to know what all goes into the licensing application, check it out here on the NRC's webpage.

If you click on any of the 10 CFR links you will see how much information an applicant needs to submit. Then the NRC goes through the application to make sure all the questions have been answered. If they haven't then the NRC goes the rounds with the applicant for additional information (RAIs).

Then you have hearings on the application and that takes quite a bit of time as well. Anyone can submit comments then, and afterwards the NRC has to write responses to every comment.

A COL application has never been done before so it will take longer of course to go through the first few times. But afterwards, we're hoping to streamline the process by creating a template application which should reduce the length of the process.
Starvid, Sweden said…
Still, it's silly that it takes such a long time. If you have an approved reactor design, a suitable site and a supportive community, the only thing you should need to do is give Siemens a call and point out where to plonk down the reactor.
Karen Street said…

That's the difference between government control of utilities, and private utilities regulated by the government. Our system has its advantages and disadvantages; you've noted one of the disadvantages.
Anonymous said…
It's a misconception to think that the whole industry is sitting on the starting line waiting for the NRC to pull the trigger. I don't know exactly what the NRC licensed, but apparently it was based on a proof-of-concept scale model. There is much work to be done on the real thing. Companies can only go so far in funding a project of this magnitude without customers, and there aren't any firm orders yet. The nuclear industry in the US has been decimated in the 30 years since the last new plant was ordered. It has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Consider the following:

- All the players from the nuclear heyday have been broken up and sold off. If they exist, it's in name only, such as Westinghouse.
- Almost all of the engineering talent from that time is retired and/or dead.
- The original nuclear engineers were in companies with a deep knowledge base in power generation. Design of nuclear components was an evolutionary step for a standing army of engineers who already knew what they were doing.
- These same companies had a proud history of manufacturing anything and everything.
- An unparalleled manufacturing infrastructure existed in this country where everything could be made domestically -- reactor vessels, steam generators, pumps, valves, etc.

All of the above is long gone. I believe that the only foundry in the world that can make the reactor vessel head is in Japan. Korea is another source for other components. We're going to be standing in line at these suppliers behind the rest of the world. Engineering talent is going to be a huge problem. I'm glad there's a pool of young nuclear engineers ready to jump in with both feet, but who's going to train them? We need thousands of engineers who are ready to go, not a cattle call of new hires. I just don't see who going to design, manufacture, and build these domestic plants in a relatively short time horizon. Looks like Westinghouse will have their hands full in China for a while. It will take many years, possibly decades, to rebuild this industry.

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