Things are moving so slowly at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that it took nuclear regulators six months and three different attempts to give congressional overseers information they requested on the research budgets of projects.
The NRC finally did give the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works the information, but it was an incomplete list delivered the night before the commission was set to testify.
Republican Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe asked the NRC at the Wednesday hearing, “How do you develop a budget and meet your responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and license fees if it takes six months and three oversight requests to produce a list of what projects this 91 million dollars will be spent on?”
NRC Commissioner Stephen Burns replied that the slow response was because of the “responsible” accounting methods the commission uses to compile its list of projects. Burns continued by saying that NRC accounting, however, lacks the ability to “track” the data at the level of individual projects.
According to Inhofe, “the NRC’s bureaucracy has grown beyond the size needed to accomplish its mission.” The nuclear industry has shrunk in recent years, and the NRC previously accomplished “a lot more work with a lot fewer resources.”
Currently, the NRC plans to reduce its budget by roughly 10 percent by 2020 while reducing its staff by around 9.5 percent from the current 3,778 to 3,600 by September 2016.
The NRC has seen its budget expand by about 50 percent over the past decade. It predicted a wave of new reactor license requests and a general expansion of the nuclear industry following the applications of 13 different companies to the NRC for licenses to build 25 new nuclear power reactors in the United States between 2007 and 2009.
Changing economic conditions, however, especially low natural gas prices, slow demand growth for electricity, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster ended this “nuclear renaissance” in the United States. This caused a declining interest in the construction of new nuclear plants and as a result the NRC has received 40 percent fewer licensing requests and about half as many license renewal applications, greatly decreasing its work load.