NRC FY2016 budget hearing – Sen Alexander and Sen Feinstein
On March 4, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development held a hearing about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s FY2016 budget. The video archive is available for review.
The only senators from the subcommittee who took part in the hearing were Sen Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with an invited guest appearance from Sen Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Sen Alexander is the chairman of the committee, Sen Feinstein is the ranking member. With the small number of senators attending the hearing, the usual 5 minute time limit per senator for questions and answers was waived by the Chairman. That feature helped make this hearing more informative than usual.
All four current NRC commissioners — Stephen Burns, Jeff Baran, William Ostendorff, and Kristine Svinicki — testified at the hearing. Burns, Ostendorff and Baran submitted written statements.
Chairman Burns’s statement includes a comprehensive summary of the agency’s FY2016 budget request. In addition it provides two “good news” numbers related to FY2015 — annual license fee for operating reactors will be reduced by 5% from $5,223,000 to $4,750,000, and the professional staff hour rate will be reduced from $279/hr to $268/hr. These new rates will be published in the proposed FY2015 fee rule in the next few weeks for public comment. In the FY2015 enacted budget the number of full time equivalents (FTE) was reduced by 26.5 from the FY2014 number.
The FY2016 budget request reflects a $17.3 million reduction in total available resources and a 37.5 reduction in FTE. As explained by Chairman Burns’s testimony, the budget request is actually a few million dollars higher than the FY2015 appropriation, but the resources available in FY2015 included authorization to use $34.2 million in unobligated fee-based revenue carried over from FY2013.
There are small decreases in most budget lines, including oversight of operating reactors and new reactor licensing reviews that reflect both a reduced workload and an increase in the assumed productivity of the staff, which appears to be quantified as an increased number of billable, non-overhead hours.
Watching this hearing was a refreshing experience compared to watching Sen Boxer and Sen Markey grill the commissioners. As usual, Senator Alexander was strongly supportive of nuclear energy and reminded the commissioners that their job was to maintain safety, but not to strangle the valuable industry by byzantine, expensive rules.
He told them to diligently review their current practices and he expressed keen interest in the program that Chairman Burns described as a review of the cumulative effects of regulation.
Alexander took a little detour and used the example of a recent study conducted at Vanderbilt University to quantify the costs of complying with federal regulations. He stated that he was not terribly surprised by finding out that compliance added a substantial burden, but he was shocked to find out that it ended up adding the equivalent of $11,000/year in cost for each enrolled student. He told the commissioners that every regulatory agency exhibits the tendency to add rules without understanding how much they cost to follow and enforce.
Commissioner Svinicki mentioned that the NRC had recently been informed that they needed to improve their methods for cost analysis; evaluation of industry data revealed several orders of magnitude underestimations of the cost. As Svinicki pointed out, with errors that large in cost projections, it is virtually certain that some enacted regulations would not have been passed due to insufficient benefits to justify the expense.
Though much more polite and generally supportive of nuclear energy than her California senatorial colleague, Sen Feinstein spent a major portion of her time criticizing the fact that the NRC had determined that on site storage of used nuclear fuel was adequately safe for an indefinite period of time. She initially indicated that rule change had made her begin to question her support of nuclear power since it seemed like the NRC was going to allow used fuel to remain on site forever.
Commissioner Ostendorff patiently explained that the NRC does not believe that fuel should be left on site forever, but it does believe that it would be safe to continue keeping it where it is — in either dry casks or in spent fuel pools — for as long as necessary given the monitoring and security requirements that already exist. He also tried to gently remind Sen Feinstein that the NRC is not the responsible agency for establishing a site or a system of moving existing fuel. It is responsible for the safety oversight of that activity.
The commissioners and the senators discussed the near term prospect that an existing low level waste storage site in west Texas has announced plans to file a license application to convert part of its land into an interim used fuel storage site that could begin accepting shipments once the license has been approved. Chairman Burns reminded the senators that the NRC has experience reviewing such sites and has even issued a license for a facility that was never built. He did not mention that the Private Fuel Storage site was blocked by the Department of the Interior.
At the end of the hearing, there was an important exchange between Sen Alexander and Commissioner Ostendorff. Following that exchange, Sen Alexander did something unusual; he took his share of responsibility for the failure of the federal government to follow through on its contracted obligation to take used nuclear fuel away from licensees. I thought you might enjoy watching the final few minutes of the hearing, assuming that you did not invest the time to watch the full version linked above.
We’d like to thank those generous Atomic Insights readers and Atomic Show listeners who have provided financial contributions and other support, including spreading the word about this site.
If you like Atomic Insights and believe that more people need to hear about the information posted here, please make a value-for-value contribution using the button below.
Note: Atomic Insights LLC is a for-profit company. We have chosen a business model that gives our product the widest possible distribution. Nuclear professionals and other nuclear energy enthusiasts obtain value from our product and by having the ability to share this product freely with those who do not fully understand why atomic fission is so important to our future.
Some of those who benefit are providing much appreciated support. If more decide to make that choice, we wouldn’t complain.
So far, our model is working out pretty well. It helps keep the site ad-free, with content dictated by author/reader/listener interest.
“As Svinicki pointed out, with errors that large in cost projections, it is virtually certain that some enacted regulations would not have been passed due to insufficient benefits to justify the expense.”
It is virtually certain all plants were licensed on the basis of acceptable risk, using quantitative criteria, after a DBA Accident Analysis was performed. The NRC staff is moving the goal posts of acceptable risk, to them, to beyond DBAs. Almost always in response to the magnitude of a Media Event, not the actual technical problem. Who’s letting them do it?
The Design Basis of the Japanese plants is beyond the design basis of the US plants. We have no sites with 6 plants, built on a volcanic location, subject to extreme quakes and tsunamis, built on the beach. And we never will.
It’s virtually certain to me, based on an original acceptable risk, this expense can’t be justified.
What a difference an election makes! Should nuclear power be a partisan issue? NO! Have Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Henry Waxman, Harry Reid, Ed Markey, Barbara Boxer, Andy Cuomo and his father Mario, and all the rest made it a partisan issue? You bet!
All this talk that Republican support oil and coal and gas, and Republican distrust of the theory of anthropogenic global warming makes them nuclear’s enemy is demonstrably untrue. Republicans support cheap energy regardless of source. Democrats constrict energy supply by making fossil too expensive through carbon pollution control measures and at the same time do whatever they can to obstruct nuclear power. This isn’t true for every politician, either Republican or Democrat, but just looking at how civil the newly elected Congress people are towards the NRC versus the nasty, divisive, intolerant, condemning attitude of the previous one convinces me that the nation made a right decision in November of 2016.
Yes, I know this comment won’t be popular here because it doesn’t agree with the established narrative here at AI, but that’s what anyone who watches the video, comparing it with videos from Barbara Boxer’s domination can clearly see.
Again, for the record, I am NOT a GOP Party member. I joined the Constitution Party because I am sick and tired of Democratic immorality and GOP hypocrisy. And I support nuclear power 100% and I have been a nuclear professional for greater than 30 years.
If its hypocrisy that offends you, you might consider, (prior to lamenting partisanship), the rabidly partisan commentary you offer here consistently. Your shoe-horning of “the left”, (liberals, democrats), into one neat little box of full of antis and sinners is partisan to the extreme.
My personal opinion is that the NRC missed out on an opportunity to educate Sen. Feinstein on the risks of continued pad storage. If they would have told her how these casks have been dropped, smashed, and all of the other tests, they they might have made her understand why they came to the waste confidence conclusion.
Thanks Rod for the posting. I did enjoy Lamar’s questions and statements. I’ll be sure to spread this post around on Youtube…like so many of your other, most excellent articles.
Very useful discussion. I’ll ask our Sen. Feinstein to reconsider her ‘worries’ over used fuel storage.
Lamar is a breath of fresh air. It was clear that Lamar pretty much knew the answers to his own questions but being the fine politician he is he knew what questions would let everyone watching gain a positive feeling about nuclear energy.
Its almost like he knew someone such as Rod would make sure the footage received a wide audience. He made damn sure all the key, authoritative answers to the spent fuel questions were clearly provided. This is a valuable service given the sort of slick, well-funded anti-nuclear reiteration we are sadly still seeing.
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
I spent some time to listen to this podcast, and I still have two questions about module size and its…
Will I agree with your theory. Expensive designs are going to be expensive to build, even with practice. I would…
“And since we are seeing it in the West but not in the East (UAE, S Korea, Russia, China) is…
@Cyril R What was Tesla’s learning rate starting at the first Roadster? How much do you think that first unit…
A new engine or turbine product line doesn’t just cost triple a unit. That’d make it pointless. Yet this is…