Skip to main content

The Nuclear Interest in a Government Shutdown

Government shutdown has been all the rage in Washington lately. Appropriations run out at the end of September, also the end of the fiscal year, and the government cannot fully function without them. Well, it can – it’s not like the treasury is empty aside from moths and dust – but without passing appropriation legislation, none of that money can be divvied among government functions, thus shutdown.

Now, obviously, essential activities continue regardless. When the government last shut down in 2013, the Department of Homeland Security furloughed about 15 percent of its workforce. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sidelined about 90 percent of its staff. Nothing “bad” happened, or was expected to, but it’s not a good situation.

There is a notable difference between DHS (and many other government agencies) and the NRC. NRC is 90 percent funded by the industry it oversees; in many ways, it’s a fee-for-service entity and one where the key goal, like that of DHS, is to protect public safety. Even though safety is well covered, shutdown or no, there seems a distinct gap between the NRC’s obligations and its response to government shutdown.

NEI’s President and CEO Marv Fertel addressed these issues in a letter dated September 4 to NRC Chairman Stephen Burns. This is available only on NEI’s member Web site, so we’ll quote it more fully here to give you  its full flavor and context.

In addition, as you know, approximately 90% of the NRC’s appropriations are offset by user fees, which licensees continue to pay during a funding gap. As a matter of fairness, those paying government fees should be able to receive the services for which they are paying. Our research identified a significant difference in this regard between the NRC’s approach and that of DHS as that department continued to allow normal operations during the October 2013 funding gap for a range of activities funded through DHS fees and multi-year appropriations (e.g., programs under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

Fertel makes a series of suggestion on how the NRC might balance the needs of licensees and a shuttered government:

* ensuring its interpretation and implementation of the Anti-Deficiency Act is not unnecessarily conservative and more limited than required;

* ensuring it will maximize the use of carry-over funds and fee-based revenue to ensure continued operations during a lapse in appropriations;

* identifying lessons learned from DHS and other agencies to help the NRC to determine how it can forestall furloughs and continue normal operations;

* establishing in advance the bases for continuing commercial contract work during a funding gap;

* clarifying that power generation and grid reliability concerns can justify the processing of emergency and exigent licensing actions;

* engaging the relevant congressional committees to address statutory impediments to the NRC taking appropriate regulatory action and providing necessary services during a funding gap.

The NRC already recognizes the breadth of “excepted activities,” that is, those that can continue during a shutdown. It’s broader than you might think:

Excepted functions include a broad list of NRC responsibilities: event notification, emergency response, site operations, resident inspectors, enforcement, allegations/investigations, facility and nuclear reactor security and safeguards, commissioners, policy direction, legal advice, state liaison, international liaison, public affairs, congressional liaison, inspector general, financial management, administrative and information technology support, and human resources.

And that alone should justify a new look at the NRC’s shutdown contingency plan:

Given the breadth of this list, we believe the agency should look afresh at its shutdown contingency plan to ensure staff normally performing “activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety” and “activities that ensure production of power and maintenance of power distribution” are not furloughed.

Past government shutdowns have tended to include an element of brinksmanship, so, assuming that recurs this time, we may not know until September 30th or even October 1st whether one will occur. But the industry has provided good reasons and reasonable recommendations to ensure that the NRC continues its essential activities during any shutdown that may occur.

Comments

Anonymous said…
So, here's a simple, common-sense question (which means it will go nowhere in the land of make-believe DC): if you pay for a service, such as NRC fees, should you not get the service? If you do not get service, should you have to pay? When I go to my auto repair shop, I pay a fee for service and get service. I do not expect to pay a fee and receive no service. That would be theft. If the NRC shuts down by still collects fees, is that a case of theft? It would be in the real world, but evidently not Washington.

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…