Gov. Shutdown shrinks NRC staff
PLYMOUTH — So far, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 3,900-member staff has been able to stay on the job despite the federal government shutdown, thanks to a little leftover money from last year. But the till is nearing empty.
The staff is expected to thin to a mere 300 by Thursday, raising the question of how the skeleton crew might respond should one of the country’s 100 or so nuclear reactors experience an emergency.
“If there were to be an event at a plant, we would recall workers who had been furloughed,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “They would be on the job until the event was concluded, then they would return to furloughed status.”
The agency’s resident inspectors, assigned to each of the nuclear power stations across the country, will be among “excepted” federal employees who will remain at work, Sheehan said. The same goes for headquarters operations officers, who field emergency calls around the clock from the NRC’s Baltimore location.
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth has two resident inspectors from the federal government agency on site. “They will be the front line,” Sheehan said.
The NRC also has a crew of supplemental inspectors, who regularly check a host of issues at the country’s power plants.
“Those are the inspectors that will be sidelined during the shutdown,” Sheehan said.
James Sinclair, spokesman for Entergy, the owner-operator of the Pilgrim plant, said the company would comply with any requirement to reschedule inspections.Other than that, “I don’t see any direct impact to us,” Sinclair said.
The NRC notified nuclear power licensees in writing late last week about the upcoming plan to scale down staff.
“A small core of employees, identified beforehand, will remain on duty to monitor licensee activities and carry on the minimum activities necessary to protect the health and safety of the public,” the notice said.
The agency added the reminder, “It is important to note that the primary responsibility for safety and security rests with the licensees.”
Those who use the NRC’s website — www. nrc.gov — to keep up with the daily status of reactors or check event reports filed when something’s amiss will also be without that resource come Thursday.
Updates won’t be posted once staff is reduced, Sheehan said.