U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission furloughs most of its employees

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission furloughs most of its employees

October 10th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Nuclear power tile

Nuclear power tile

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

The federal government shutdown is forcing the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to furlough 3,600 of its 3,900 employees today.

The nuclear watchdog agency will maintain it resident inspectors at nuclear plants, including TVA's Sequoyah, Watts Bar and Browns Ferry plants. But researchers and engineers that license reactors, review new plans and perform other duties are being sent home today because the agency's carryover funding from the previous fiscal year has run out.

The NRC is keeping personnel available for any emergencies, but more than 90 percent of its staff will be off the job indefinitely, barring an emergency.

"I believe we all share a deep disappointment that this action has become necessary," NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said in a memo to employees on Wednesday. "Beginning on Thursday, we will not conduct nonemergency reactor licensing, reactor license renewal amendments emergency preparedness exercises, reviews of design certifications or rulemaking and regulatory guidance."

The NRC has begun its review of TVA's request for approval of a new license design for small modular reactors, which may be built in Oak Ridge, and for a 20-year license extension for the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant near Soddy-Daisy. Such work will be largely suspended until the government shutdown ends.

The NRC furloughs are among thousands for federal inspectors who monitor everything from nuclear plants to nursing homes.

"The risks are going up every day," Ronald White, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government in Washington D.C., told Bloomberg News.

At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which inspects work sites, only 230 of its 2,235-employee staff is still on the job.

At the Food and Drug Administration, 626 inspectors remain on the job and 976 are furloughed.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has retained 966 of its 2,355 employees.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340