Progress Toward a Right-Sized, Agile Nuclear Regulator

Victor M. McCree
Executive Director for Operations

The NRC has begun “re-baselining” the agency’s workload, shedding, deferring or reducing resources. This is a crucial step in Project Aim, our effort to transform the NRC into a more agile, effective and efficient organization poised to meet the challenges of the future.

The Commission has decided on the staff’s recommendations of activities that can be eliminated or de-prioritized without compromising our important safety mission. Re-baselining reductions total about $48.97 million and will reduce the workforce by about 185.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) over the next two years. We are confident we can implement the majority of these reductions by the end of September, allowing us to achieve significant savings in fiscal year 2017.

We can implement re-baselining without impacting our important safety and security mission and without affecting our ability to demonstrate organizational values and principles of good regulation.

Every office, division and branch within the NRC will be affected by re-baselining, directly or indirectly.

What will all this mean for our licensees and other external stakeholders? We will no longer conduct mid-cycle reviews under the Reactor Oversight Process. Procedures and guidance may not be updated as often, and the updates may take longer. Materials licenses will be renewed every 15 years instead of every 10. As our budget shrinks, fees assessed to licensees should go down as well.

While we remain committed to be open and transparent, some public meetings traditionally held near nuclear facilities will instead be handled by webinars or GoToMeeting. And if you call the NRC after work hours, you may end up talking to an answering machine rather than an operator, as we cut back on contractor expenses. The emergency operations center will continue to be staffed 24 hours a day. We will also be reducing travel and training support for our Agreement State and tribal government partners.

Re-baselining is the beginning, not the end, of the NRC’s Project Aim transformation to be better positioned to meet the challenges ahead. We will continue to look for more ways to increase efficiency. As part of this effort, the staff on March 18 presented the Commission a list of longer-term efficiencies that will bring additional benefits now and in the future, as well as a projection of changes in the agency workload through FY 2020. Additional proposals will be sent to the Commission in the spring, including potential reductions to the agency’s drug testing program and current security clearance requirements, and the evaluation of merging the Offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and the Office of New Reactors

Rest assured: As we carry out these important changes, we remain focused on our mission of regulating the civilian uses of radioactive material while protecting public health, safety, the environment and the nation’s security.

NRC Geared Up for Potent Winter Wallop

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

What a difference a month makes. As of late December, many East Coast residents were savoring record warmth and a winter which, until that point at least, had been largely devoid of a certain four-letter word (snow), as well as ice.

Fueled by a potent El Nino – a warming of Pacific Ocean waters that occurs every several years – the season was marked more by bustling golf courses and joggers wearing shorts than an abundance of the white stuff.

But now a sizable storm that has piggy-backed on the jet stream is taking aim at the East and promises to deliver what could be a significant winter wallop accompanied by large snow accumulations and strong winds in many areas. As is always the case, the NRC is ready to keep a close watch on nuclear power plants that potentially could be impacted by the storm.

Plant personnel have checklists of specific tasks to be performed when a significant storm – no matter whether a blizzard or a hurricane – is approaching.

For instance, there will be “walkdowns,” or surveys, of plant grounds to ensure there are no objects or debris that could get whipped into the air by strong winds and cause damage to any structures, power lines or the switchyard.

Another activity is to check that tanks that supply fuel to emergency diesel generators are filled. If the flow of power from the grid to the plant is disrupted for any reason, these generators will activate and provide power to key safety systems until the normal electricity alignment can be restored.

There needs to be sufficient fuel on hand in case the generators are needed for any extended period of time.

Also, plant operators must prepare for the possibility of flooding. One way to do this is to follow each site’s procedures, which can involve checking that flood-protection doors are properly secured, putting sandbags in place, stationing portable pumps or other actions.

NRC Resident Inspectors will be monitoring the completion of these activities using their own inspection procedure while also tracking the storm’s track and expected conditions at each site.

All indications are that this storm – dubbed Jonas by the Weather Channel – is one to take seriously. The NRC is prepared to do just that.

For information on how NRC HQ prepares, see this post.