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NRC Should Improve Efficiency, Transparency, NEI Testimony Says

April 16, 2014—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should “improve the efficiency and transparency of its regulatory processes” and prioritize its rulemakings based on its own Principles of Good Regulation, NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said in testimony submitted April 11 to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

In addition, Fertel said, “the NRC’s resources and staff levels should be reduced concordant to the reduction in the number of operating reactors and material licensees from fiscal year 2014.”

The wide-ranging comments included industry views on the uranium enrichment decontamination and decommissioning tax, used fuel management, small reactors, advanced reactor and fuel-cycle technologies and completion of the MOX fuel fabrication facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Fertel notes a recent decline in specific information provided in the NRC budget justifications. He said the budget request appears to fund continuation of “approximately 53 high-priority and three medium-priority rulemakings [that are] currently underway.”

The budget request leaves other rulemakings “in a state of limbo: neither important enough (nor presumably sufficiently safety-related) to proceed, nor deferred or canceled. The industry encourages the committee to direct the commission to prioritize and conclude regulatory matters and more effectively manage its internal processes.”

Another issue, the testimony says, is the proposed 20 percent increase in NRC fees charged to licensees. Fertel recommends freezing the NRC budget at the fiscal 2013 level. “Such a reduction from the fiscal year 2015 request would require the NRC to reallocate resources from its proposed level of funding,” the testimony says.

Other issues addressed in the testimony include:

Uranium enrichment decontamination and decommissioning tax: NEI is “strongly” opposed to the tax, which would be used in the cleanup of three uranium enrichment plants that “operated for 25 years as defense facilities and were irretrievably contaminated long before any sales of enrichment services to the commercial industry.”

The testimony notes that the nuclear energy industry already has paid its share of the cleanup twice, once when it purchased services from the plants and again under the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

Used nuclear fuel management: To comply with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Congress should fund the completion of licensing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository, Fertel says. In addition, the industry supports the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future’s recommendation to establish “a new organization dedicated solely to implementing the nuclear waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.”

Small modular reactors: The federal small modular reactor program, which the testimony says is “instrumental in the eventual deployment of SMRs in the United States and internationally,” should continue to be funded. “Developing this technology now will help U.S. companies claim a large portion of the international market when the demand for smaller, more grid-appropriate, carbon-free energy sources materializes,” the testimony says.

Advanced reactor and fuel cycle technologies: “NEI supports programs … that seek to accelerate commercial deployment of new reactor technologies, sustain safe operation of the reactors that provide one-fifth of America’s electricity and two-thirds of our nation’s emission-free electricity, and develop advanced fuel cycles to manage used nuclear fuel,” the testimony says.

Completion of the MOX fuel facility: Fertel’s testimony also says NEI supports completion of the MOX facility, which the Energy Department’s 2015 budget request would move to “cold standby.” Construction of the plant, which employs 1,800 people directly and uses 4,000 American contractors in 43 states, is 60 percent complete, the testimony notes. “To cancel, suspend or simply reduce funding for the project will validate those critics of the government and DOE who claim it simply cannot complete complex projects, particularly those concerning nuclear materials disposition.”