NRC Defends Staffing, Budget in Senate Hearing
Jan. 30, 2014—Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane told a Senate oversight panel this week that although the NRC has not seen the level of licensing activity it anticipated a decade ago, the agency has sufficient workload to justify the increase in staff levels since then.
Macfarlane told the Environment and Public Works Committee that in real dollars the agency’s budget has decreased since 2003.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) asked Macfarlane whether she agreed that the NRC has seen “a huge increase in staff, but no increase in workload.” In response, she listed a revived Yucca Mountain licensing application, the reworking of the waste confidence rule and the response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident as additions to the agency’s recent workload.
Responding to Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) comment that the four reactor design certifications and 17 combined construction and operating license applications anticipated in the early 2000s have devolved to one and two, respectively, Commissioner Kristine Svinicki said the commission is working on four design certification applications and nine COLs. She noted that progress has slowed as license applicants have dedicated fewer resources to answering NRC questions on the applications.
The committee also discussed its concerns with what members said was NRC’s slow response to requests for information.
Early in the hearing, Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) demanded to see “all documents” related to the shuttered San Onofre nuclear energy facility, saying she had seen documents suggesting that the NRC intended to allow the plant to restart before all safety reviews were completed. She charged that the NRC was blocking the release of some documentation using an “outlandish” legal basis and said she would propose legislation to force release of all material if the NRC did not turn it over.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) argued for states to have a “real seat at the table” in decisions related to the decommissioning of shutdown plants. The Vermont Yankee facility, which has generated controversy in the state in recent years, will go off line at the end of 2014.
Sanders also said that workers being laid off from a nuclear reactor that is being shut down should have “first shot” at decommissioning jobs to mitigate the “economic harm to communities” affected by a shutdown.
Macfarlane said the NRC’s interactions on decommissioning are with the plant owner, not the state but that the owner could include the host state in the process. Sanders said that, absent NRC rulemaking, he would introduce legislation mandating a strong role for the states.
In discussions on other topics, Macfarlane noted that because of last October’s government shutdown, the publication of the NRC’s final “waste confidence” rule on extended storage of used fuel at shutdown reactors is running about a month behind its original schedule and is now expected to be issued this October.
She said the safety evaluation reports of the Yucca Mountain repository license application, which a federal appeals court ordered be completed, will also be finished in a year, but she noted that the agency lacks sufficient funds to issue a final licensing determination on the application.
The archived webcast can be viewed at the committee’s website.