Businessweek published an article titled Nuclear Reactor License Renewals May Be Slowed, Jaczko Says that made my heart race and made me (silently) string together a whole bunch of 4-letter words that I learned from my sailors.
One of my favorite candidates has made a lot of headway in his presidential bid by proposing that it is time to audit the Federal Reserve. I am not running for office, but I hope I can gather some support for a proposal to audit the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, another out of control, independent agency charged by Congress with a function that plays an important role in the US economy.
Ever since I started hearing rumors through my grapevine of sources about the NRC’s budget submission for fiscal year 2011, I have been trying to raise red flags about purposeful budgetary manipulations designed to choke down on NRC performance and licensee service. It is harmful to our country’s prosperity to have a key energy supply gatekeeper agency being run by a man who is determined to do all he can to narrow the opening and slow down the flow of successful projects.
In February 2010, I wrote to the Director of Public Affairs at the NRC to find out why the NRC had decided to submit a budget REQUEST to Congress for FY2011 that was $13.3 million LOWER in then-year dollars than the FY2010 budget.
One of my key concerns was the effect on the schedules for new license applications – not only do applicants have to pay $273 for every regulator hour, but they have to pay the staff and contractors that they use to apply for permission and answer regulator questions. Longer licensing processes cost more in salaries and other overhead and they push potential revenue out into the future.
At the time that the NRC Chairman, the principal decision maker in budget submission processes, had determined that he needed LESS money in 2011 than he had in 2010, the president was proposing a significantly expanded loan guarantee program that might increase the work load at the NRC. Here is part of the response that I received from the NRC’s budget office on February 8, 2010.
If you want to get into the details about what’s in the budget for new reactors and whether it would be impacted by the new loan money to NRC, I would need someone from the new reactor office to talk with you. However, I would say that the CFO indicated in our media briefing on the budget that the reduction in the budget is mostly for existing reactors–reviews of license renewals for research and test reactors and license amendments for power reactors.
I believe there is a slight increase in new reactors. However, as the CFO told reporters at the briefing a week ago, more resources will not increase the speed of licensing because there has been slow responses from the applicants to our questions on their submittals and as Eliot has said several of them have told us they are asking for delays in our review due to a number of circumstances. Our FY 2011 budget does have resources for review of small reactors, should we get an application.
If you want to know the amount, I can look that up for you. Eliot also makes a good point that more loan $ to DOE may not directly result in more applications to NRC. Lastly, there is a fair amount of flexibility in shifting our resources where they are most needed.
Ever since the Fukushima event occurred and the previously budgeted resources were diverted to completely unplanned activities, I have been asking the NRC when it was going to make its presentations to its Congressional appropriations committee to request additional resources to cover the unplanned expenses. The chairman has apparently decided NOT to ask for any additional resources, despite the obvious diversion of a substantial amount of staff and contractor resources to respond to an event that happened 12,000 miles outside of his jurisdiction.
Aside: As a former Navy operations and maintenance requirements officer, I have participated in the preparation of such requests for additional resources when hurricanes, groundings, or collisions resulted in expenses that we had not included in our budget submissions. It is important to understand that Congress does allow agencies to include rainy day funds in its budget submissions – they EXPECT the agencies to come and ask for more resources after an event happens so that the requirements that they recognized and paid for during the budget process are not diverted to pay for unplanned events. End Aside.
In the same article where Chairman Jaczko told reporters that a lack of resources – which is primarily a result of his failure to ask for them – will slow down the process of renewing operating licenses, he sanctimoniously lectured the nuclear industry about his perception that its performance is deteriorating because there were several events that he considered to be almost dangerous.
A priority for the NRC next year will be managing “precursors of declines in performance” at U.S. nuclear plants, Jaczko said. Workers at FirstEnergy Corp.’s Perry plant near Cleveland and Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper plant 64 miles south of Omaha were almost exposed to “significant doses” of radiation due to ‘human-performance-type’’ errors, he said.
Can you understand why I am still trembling as I think about chairman’s budget restraint strategy and the muted response by the industry?
Of course, the industry leaders are in a tough situation – if they are sharply critical or fight back, the NRC can give them the equivalent of a red card or yellow flag that will add significant costs to their task of operating the most important source of nearly zero emission electrical power in the United States. They might also be thinking about the fact that if they told the NRC that it has a responsibility to request sufficient resources, their annual fees would increase.
You see, the most important thing to understand about the NRC budget for activities like reviewing licenses is that it does not cost the taxpayers a dime. The NRC is required, by law, to bill the full cost of those “services”, at a rate of $273 per bureaucrat hour, to the licensee or license applicant. The ONLY reason for a failure to request sufficient resources is to slow down the process. It has nothing to do with being a good steward or doing its share to reduce expenses in a time of fiscal restraint.
Audit the NRC
And focus on its sole budgetary decision maker.
Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat has published additional information about the NRC Chairman’s budget based strategy to restrict nuclear energy development.
Update (Posted at 2:35 pm on December 9, 2011) I just learned that Chairman Jaczko had voted to approve the AP1000 Design Certification Application. Coincidentally, that vote was posted to the ADAMS system today, but indicates that it was actually cast on December 6, the day before the above post was published. That does not alleviate my anger at the purposeful squeezing of resources enough to slow down license renewals and new reactor licensing applications.
The letter accompanying Chairman Jaczko’s vote contains a very interesting paragraph that I thought would be worth quoting:
In 2007, I initiated a proposal to create aircraft impact requirements for new reactors. Specifically, I wanted new reactors to be designed and built to limit the damage an aircraft impact could cause and applicants to perform a realistic assessment that would demonstrate that the plant design will withstand an aircraft impact such that no significant release of radioactive materials would occur. Through this amendment, reactors referencing the AP1 000 certified design will meet those requirements.
So now you know – the incredibly expensive aircraft impact rule that only applies to new reactors was initiated by Chairman Jaczko, a man who never met a rule slowing nuclear energy production that he did not like.