GOP chairman seeks ‘fiscal discipline’ at nuclear regulator

The top senator overseeing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is working on legislation to reform the way the agency spends money.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, did not go so far as to say he wants to cut the NRC’s budget.

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But he said regulators beefed up the agency in anticipation of new work that never came and have not adjusted to the new realities.

“I intend to draft legislation to reform the NRC’s budget structure and fee collection in an effort to instill fiscal discipline in the agency and ensure that resources are properly focused on safety-significant matters and timely decision-making,” Inhofe said at a Wednesday hearing with the agency’s four commissioners.

Inhofe is a frequent critic of the NRC and charges that its regulations stifle the nuclear power sector while adding no safety benefit.

An example of that, he said, was the NRC’s responses to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, in which a nuclear reactor lost power and partially melted down.

“Four and a half years later the industry has spent more than $4 billion and the NRC staff has repeatedly sent proposals to the commission which they admit are not safe, significant or cost justified,” he said. “I believe this shows that NRC’s bureaucracy has grown beyond the size needed to accomplish the mission.”

The NRC used to accomplish much more than it does now with fewer resources, Inhofe said.

He endorsed the agency’s recent efforts to cut some staff and become more nimble. But he blasted leaders’ resistance to budget cuts, which he said was “irresponsible.”

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE (D-Calif.) also had a list of problems with the NRC, but she said it’s not doing enough to keep nuclear power safe.

A prime example is the Fukushima response, which Boxer said has been far too slow.

“While I recognize progress has been made in some of the areas, I am frustrated and disappointed with the overall slow pace,” she said. “Not one of the 12 task force recommendations has been fully implemented.”