The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s budget has grown in recent years to levels that are no longer justified. That was the message delivered today by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to hundreds of nuclear energy industry executives assembled at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s annual conference.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s workload is decreasing, but regulations are increasing. I am going to work with Senate appropriators to adjust the NRC’s budget,” Inhofe said.
Over the past several years, even though licensing activity for new nuclear plants proved to be smaller than anticipated due to the recession and other factors, the NRC’s budget grew about 35 percent and its workforce grew about 25 percent, Inhofe said.
“These costs are symptomatic of a cultural shift at the NRC” following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, Inhofe said. “The NRC seems to seek any means it can to justify additional regulations.”
The U.S. nuclear energy has spent nearly $4 billion on safety enhancements since the Fukushima accident, despite its long-standing safety record, Inhofe noted.
“Every increase in regulation makes it more difficult for nuclear energy to remain cost competitive, and I believe there’s an intention to make that happen,” Inhofe said.
Nuclear energy facilities operating in 30 states produce 19 percent of U.S. electricity supplies. Over the past two years, economic challenges forced the retirement of nuclear power plants in Wisconsin and Vermont, even though they were operating at high levels of safety and reliability.
Inhofe called on industry leaders to identify cases of regulatory excess and to defend the federal requirement for accurate cost-benefit analyses of new regulations rather than yield to subjective judgments imposing additional regulatory burden.
One of the nuclear energy industry’s priorities is to reduce the cumulative impact of regulatory requirements that includes about 60 NRC rulemakings underway. A related focus is an initiative to strengthen the ability of nuclear facilities and the NRC to better focus resources on activities with the greatest safety significance.
The NRC in February unveiled a Project AIM 2020 report with recommendations to improve prioritization and “right-size” the agency by the end of the decade. However, the fiscal 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations bill approved last week by the House of Representatives would accelerate those changes, reducing the agency’s $1 billion budget by $25 million.