Nuclear regulator predicts delays, cuts

Budget cuts and financial challenges will likely cause the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to cut back and delay some of its services, Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said on Tuesday.

In remarks to a nuclear power conference in Atlanta, Ga., Macfarlane said that the 16-day government shutdown in October was only the “most recent and most problematic” outside finance challenge. Across-the-board cuts from sequestration and Congress’s reliance on a series of short-term budget measures have also contributed to uncertainty at the agency, she said, according to prepared remarks.

Macfarlane told the conference that “the combination of well-grounded immediate priorities and constrained and unpredictable annual budgeting means that important longer-term work simply isn’t going to get done.

“In some cases, it could mean additional delays – in others, it means certain activities may be temporarily suspended. And I know that this will continue to have impacts across the industry.”

The agency used its rainy day fund to keep staffers on the job for all but four workdays of the shutdown, but the outage nonetheless cost the agency more than $10 million, Macfarlane said. The shutdown contributed to delays in issuing regulations developed in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan, among other efforts.

“For an agency that prides itself on careful, yet timely analysis and responsiveness to our licensees and members of the public, this was troubling,” she said.

In order to avert another shutdown and a new round of budget cuts caused by sequestration, Congress would need to agree on a broad budget deal by Jan. 15.

Macfarlane said that the agency is already preparing for the possibility that legislators fail to reach that consensus.

“We’re doing a careful assessment of how we performed before, during and after the shutdown because, unfortunately, we may find ourselves in the same position in January,” she said.