On-site inspectors will remain on the job at nation's 100 commercial reactors, despite the Nuclear Regulatory Commission implementing its government shutdown plan. The agency had been able to skirt the government shutdown by using carryover funds, but now those funds have run dry.
Having exhausted carryover funds that kept it open during the government shutdown, the federal agency responsible for regulating the nation’s 100 commercial nuclear reactors began furloughing more than 90 percent of its staff Thursday.
There's no short-term threat to public safety, officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other analysts said. On-site inspectors will remain on the job and employees will be called out of furlough in the case of an emergency.
But non-emergency reactor licensing, emergency preparedness exercises, and inspection of nuclear materials are among the day-to-day operations put on hold amid the lapse in appropriations. The cutback significantly crimps the agency's ability to lend oversight and planning for a nuclear industry already troubled by cheap energy competitors and waning electricity demand.
"We are mindful of the impact the shutdown will have on the public, our licensees, our staff and contractors and others who count on us," NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane wrote in a post announcing the furloughs on the agency's website Wednesday.
The cuts leave about 300 of the agency’s 3,900 employees, roughly half of whom are the on-site inspectors that oversee operations at nuclear reactors. The other half make up emergency personnel. The presidentially-appointed chairman, NRC commissioners, and inspector general are also exempted from the furloughs.