We haven’t talked much about the partial government shutdown because it isn’t our brief – and honestly, who hasn’t been bloviating about it lately? But it did lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to depend, at least for awhile, on money described as “carryover” funds to fully operate. Now, that’s gone, too, so the agency has suspended many of its activities:
Beginning on Thursday, we will not conduct non-emergency reactor licensing, reactor license renewal amendments, emergency preparedness exercises, reviews of design certifications or rulemaking and regulatory guidance.
Also suspended for now will be routine licensing and inspection of nuclear materials and waste licensees, Agreement State support and rulemakings, including Waste Confidence. This is just a short list of the actions we are prohibited from performing under Anti-deficiency Act restrictions.
Obviously, the NRC will continue to fund the resident inspectors at the individual facilities, because they’re safety related, what are considered “excepted function” employees. But about 3600 of 3900 employees are furloughed.
The NRC has a management directive that covers this, called Contingency Plan for Periods of Lapsed Appropriations (probably the most neutral way one could put the situation). The interesting part – to me – are the excepted functions that begin on page 13 of the pdf. There’s a lot of them, almost all related to safety and to ensuring that furloughed employees can be recalled to work if they are needed.
Here are just a few (there are 19 categories enumerated) beyond the resident inspectors:
Event Notification - Maintain readiness to accept notification calls regarding emergencies related to nuclear reactors or materials licensees.
Emergency Response - Perform early actions to activate Emergency Operations Centers and provide prompt analysis and advice to licensees and State decision makers. Includes incident response teams when called in for an event.
Site Operations - Maintain capability to send a team of experts to an emergency operations facility in the vicinity of an accident during the first hours following a major reactor incident.
As we’ve seen at other agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, employees can be called back to work if needed (The directive discusses that, too.).
Once the government reopens, the commission will have to reschedule public meetings and reformulate dates to finish in process activities. NEI has been collecting a list of various meetings and hearings that have been postponed. That’s here. And the NRC blog will be doing this, too – the main NRC site is up but not updating for the duration.
I’ve seen some news reports that note the NRC furloughing employees – that’s the agency that ensures nuclear safety! – but really, the plants themselves do an excellent job of keeping safety a paramount concern and the NRC resident inspectors are still on duty. Reactors are not going to start rattling off their foundations at the news. It’s an unfortunate situation but not a fretful one.
The NRC blog also answers a nagging question – why should it shut down at all if 90 percent of its funds are collected from licensees?
The bottom line is this: the NRC is not funded directly by the fees we collect. Fees collected by the NRC must be deposited in the U.S. Treasury, and the Congress provides us an appropriation.
So there you are.