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  • Nuke Commission ‘Challenges’ Include Complying With Spending Laws

    Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials are the first line of defense against Fukushima-like disasters at America’s 99 nuclear power plants, but a watchdog reports that the panel’s five commissioners and 4,000 workers are having a hard time keeping some vital parts of their own operation in order.

    “Key financial management and reporting challenges include … developing and implementing the agency’s budget in accordance with federal laws, regulations and guidelines” and “maintaining effective controls over financial reporting, contracts, and grants,” said the commission’s inspector general in a report made public Monday.

    The NRC has an annual budget of approximately $1 billion and the commission’s main job is enforcing federal safety regulations for operating plants and the four under construction. But employees spend most of their time on administrative work like adjusting nuclear reactor construction schedules. Too little time and attention is left for doing its main job as a result.

    “These challenges represent what [the IG] considers to be inherent and continuing program challenges relative to maintaining effective and efficient oversight and internal controls,” the report said. “NRC performs critical functions to ensure the safe and secure use of radioactive materials in the United States and to protect both the public and radiation workers from radiation hazards that could result from the use of radioactive materials.”

    Regulating nuclear safety programs costs $810 million, or around 77 percent of the NRC’s $1 billion budget and “is of paramount importance that the agency implement these programs as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

    Also in need of improvement is the commission’s work in recruiting, training and regulatory analysis. Additionally, the NRC must strengthen its efforts against theft of radioactive materials, hire more inspectors and tighten up its reviews to ensure radioactive waste is either stored or disposed of safely.

    The NRC, for example, couldn’t prove to the IG in February that pools securely and safely contained radioactive waste. Investigators said the NRC needs to establish an “insider threat prevention and detection program.”

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