NRC Commissioners Testify on Budget and Policy Issues

May 7, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The Energy and Power Subcommittee today held a hearing to review the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s budget request and policy priorities. Chairman Allison Macfarlane testified alongside NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William Magwood, and William Ostendorff. Members questioned the commissioners on a range of issues, including the commission’s increasing budget, pending regulations, and efforts to restart the Yucca Mountain licensing process.

Members pressed the chairman and commissioners about the agency’s productivity and use of resources. Despite a decreased workload, NRC has requested a budget increase. “Nuclear energy is an indispensable source of clean, reliable, affordable power. However, economic headwinds are challenging the viability of some plants, with four closing last year and more to follow. Budgets are statements of policy. The NRC budget for fiscal year 2015 shows an increase in resources and staffing despite a shrinking fleet of reactors,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).  

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who is Chairman of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee and also chaired today’s hearing, added, “I would like to understand how, with $400 million more dollars and 800 more people, the NRC is struggling to review 40 percent fewer licensing actions. Comparing today’s NRC with the NRC of ten years ago shows how management efficiency has degraded over the last decade. In 2004, the NRC expected the number of productive hours from the employees to be 1,776 per year. For FY 2014, that number is 1,355, a decrease of 24 percent.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) highlighted that NRC has actually increased its billing of nuclear reactor fees by 12 percent in spite of the recent reactor closings. Pitts questioned what changes should be made in future budget requests in light of the industry changes. Chairman Macfarlane responded, “We will be cognizant of these changes and be cognizant, to the best of our ability, of any other changes that may occur in the industry over the next few years.” Commissioner Magwood added that he would be interested in “looking at potential legislative approaches to make the fee a bit more moderate. The fee has been in place for quite some time and it might be worthwhile taking another look at the structure.”

The members also asked for an update on the NRC’s efforts to restart the Yucca Mountain licensing process. Last year, a DC Circuit Court upheld the NRC’s statutory mandate to review and issue a decision on the license application. The NRC has repeatedly stated it lacks the resources to do so, yet it has not requested additional funding. “Apparently, the commission doesn’t feel compelled to fulfill its mandate, only to spend down to zero,” said Shimkus. While Chairman Macfarlane did not voice support for a supplemental budget request, other commissioners were in favor of requesting additional funding for Yucca activities.

Members of the subcommittee also asserted the importance of completing Yucca’s Safety Evaluation Report first. The commissioners committed to oppose expensing other Yucca licensing activities until after the SER is complete. Chairman Macfarlane stated that the complete SER should be available January 2015.

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