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NRC Postpones More Meetings, Begins Shutdown Furloughs

[This story has been updated since it was first posted Oct. 8.]

Oct. 10, 2013—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which since the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1 has been operating on funds carried over from previous years’ budgets, began to furlough employees Oct. 10.

An Oct. 9 posting on the NRC blog by NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said, “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.”

About 3,600 of 3,900 NRC employees were expected to be furloughed. Resident inspectors at the nuclear energy facilities are among the agency employees that will be retained, along with those identified in the NRC’s Management Directive. The agency will maintain enough staff to ensure the security of its Maryland headquarters. No furloughed employee is permitted to perform official duties until Congress passes a government funding measure and the president signs it.

NRC spokesperson Holly Harrington told NEI that the commission will decide weekly on meeting and hearing postponements and will continue to maintain its blog site to inform the public on these decisions.

As of Oct. 10, the NRC has postponed a number of meetings due to the government shutdown, including:

  • Five of a series of public meetings to receive comments on a proposed rule for the extended storage of used nuclear fuel at shutdown facilities. The meetings were scheduled for Oct. 8 and 9 in California, Oct. 15 in Ohio, Oct. 17 in Minnesota and Oct. 24 in Illinois. (See Nuclear Energy Overview, Oct. 3, for coverage of the Oct. 1 meeting.) The NRC will continue to accept written comments on the so-called “waste confidence” rule during the shutdown. For more information see the agency’s waste confidence frequently asked questions Web page.
  • An Oct. 9 open house and meeting in Hampton, N.H., to discuss the commission’s actions on concrete degradation at the Seabrook facility. The NRC issued an inspection report in August, determining that Seabrook owner NextEra had performed all commission-requested actions to address the issue.
  • An Oct. 16 public meeting in San Luis Obispo to discuss the NRC’s performance assessment of the nearby Diablo Canyon facility.
  • An Oct. 16 Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing in Houston to review Nuclear Innovation North America’s application to build two advanced boiling water reactors at the South Texas Project.

Harrington said all postponed hearings and meetings will be rescheduled after the government returns to operation. For updates on meeting postponements, see the NRC’s News Releases 2013 Web page.

Harrington also said that no decision has been made to postpone deadlines for submission of stakeholder materials to the NRC.

NRC AGREES TO CONTINUE IN-PROCESSING OF WORKER ACCESS AUTHORIZATIONS

NRC staff told the Nuclear Energy Institute last week it would continue to support the processes necessary to authorize worker access to nuclear energy facilities, including submitting the fingerprints of temporary refueling and maintenance outage workers to the FBI for criminal background checks.

In an Oct. 3 letter to Macfarlane asking the agency to classify the process as an essential activity during the shutdown, NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel noted that federal law “prohibits the private sector from submitting prints directly to the FBI,” adding that more than 20 nuclear reactors are scheduled for outages this fall.

Fertel noted in a subsequent letter commending the NRC for its decision that, in addition to outage workers, employees whose criminal background checks are due for renewal also would have been affected. These include reactor operators, armed security officers and responders, alarm station operators, and response team leaders.