NRC commissioners sign off on plan to ‘right size’ nuclear agency

nuclear power plant at night elp

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted several recommendations included in the staff’s Project Aim 2020 report for reducing staff levels and reorganizing NRC regulatory efforts.

The commissioners voted June 8 to approve several measures meant to “re-baseline” the agency and prepare it for the future.

In a staff requirements memorandum, the commission agreed to set a target staffing level of 3,600 positions by Sept. 30, 2016. That’s down from the 3,778 full-time equivalent positions budgeted for FY 2015.

The NRC will hold off on setting a 2020 target until after the re-baseline review is finished.

Commissioners directed the staff to develop a plan within a year to merge the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and the Office of New Reactors — with the caveat that any merger would be subject to NRC commission approval.

Critics in congress have said that NRC’s current staffing levels are based upon a decade-old presumption that the nation was on the verge of a major revival of new nuclear plant orders.

But that scenario was altered dramatically by the boom in domestic natural gas production, flatter electric load growth and public reservations about nuclear power after the Fukushima accident in Japan.

“What we have seen over time is an agency that has grown in spite of a decreasing workload and now, unfortunately, a shrinking industry,” Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said during an April hearing. Inhofe went on to call the NRC belt-tightening report “a nice start.”

The Project Aim report was developed by a small team of staff experts, senior staff and managers who sought input from stakeholders, other federal agencies, the National Academy of Public Administration, and Chapter 208 of the National Treasury Employees Union.

The report’s analysis was also based on interviews with senior NRC managers and 23 focus groups of staff members. The team received more than 2,000 suggestions, strategies and observations for use in formulating its report.

“I am pleased that the NRC is now moving forward with a set of sound, common-sense steps. The time has come for the agency to take stock of itself,” Chairman Stephen Burns said. “The measures the agency will be implementing through Project AIM will better prepare us to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond, while ensuring we have the right staff in the right places to accomplish our critical mission.”

While Burns endorsed most of the report, said he saw no need to develop “a separate NRC leadership model or modifying the NRC Organizational Values.”

“I consider the staff's paper, this commission vote, and its resulting staff requirements memorandum to be the beginning steps in what will ultimately be a multi-year, multi-prong, multi-phase effort,” said Commissioner Kristine Svinicki.

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