Friday, October 11, 2013

NRC Shuts Down with Plant Safety Unimpaired

NRC_logo_tcm6-70473We 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.


Anonymous said...

Som the fees are still being collected, but Congress is not appropriatingh an amount based on those fees, so where is the money going? Paying something for nothing seems an awful lot likem a scam to me.

Anonymous said...

Licensee fees are assessed annually, not daily. NRC services such as non-emergency licensing are delayed until the government reopens, not denied entirely. So how is it "something for nothing"?

Anonymous said...

Say someone has already paid their annual fee. That goes to the government and is "in the bank". My question is, what does that annual fee buy you? Are you getting services for paying that fee other than having a piece of paper in a file drawer somewhere that has your name on it and it says "license"? If that's all it gets you, then that is an awfully expensive piece of paper, and pretty pricey real estate for space in a file cabinet somewhere.

Anonymous said...

A license fee is not necessarily (or even typically) a contract for services provided to the licensee. What does the DMV do for you, other than give you the plate for your car?

In both cases, license fees pay to fund government activities. In NRC's case, those activities will resume after the shutdown. Unless the shutdown drives completion of certain activities into the next fiscal year, no value lost. I'm not following your complaint.

Anonymous said...

So if the agency is essentially shut down (to hear it told), are those "government activities" ostensibly funded by the license fees still going on? If not, what happens to the fee money? Should there be a rebate for "government activities" not taking place? Will a credit be given to push the due date back for the next round of fee assessments? Seems to me if you've paid a fee to fund "government activities" for the year (annual fee) that are not taking place, are you getting any value for your money? Where is the accounting of money paid for activities that are in shutdown status?

Mitch said...

Very bad nuclear media news:

Maybe NEI can shoot the Times Editor a lengthy rebuttal?