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Simpson Questions Office of Nuclear Energy Funding and NRC’s Management

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson challenged the two arms of the government’s nuclear energy organizations, the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), when they came to testify before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. 

The FY13 budget request for the Department of Energy decreases funding for the Office of Nuclear Energy by 10% while increasing many other accounts, such the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which the President proposes to increase by 25%.

“I’m disappointed in the budget overall,” Simpson said. “The request, as you said, is the result of a very low allocation given to you by the Office of Management and Budget. Somehow, I would like to know what NE would do, with their priorities not necessarily filtered through OMB. Over the 14 years I have been here we keep heading down different paths, and I thought we had decided on Small Modular Reactors as the direction in which we were headed. Now I see a decrease in SMR funding. Wouldn’t it be better if we had a steady budget for SMRs?”

Assistant Secretary of the Office of Nuclear Energy Pete Lyons responded, “As I indicated, Mr. Simpson, SMRs are a high priority, and within the austere budget in which we must work, we tried to protect that as much as we possibly could.”

The NRC was represented by embattled Chairman Gregory Jaczko. In October, the other four commissioners of the NRC sent a letter to the President’s Chief of Staff stating that the Chairman was causing serious damage to the NRC and creating a chilled work environment. Votes on many issues before the commission have been significantly delayed.

“The only way the public will believe you is if you maintain credibility,” Simpson told the NRC Chairman. “If they believe this a political organization that is becoming more politicized all the time, then you damage that credibility all the time and it doesn’t matter whether you say nuclear power is safe or not because nobody is going to believe you. When we start to argue between commissioners about who is this most safety conscious, I think that damages the NRC.”

The commission has delayed voting on issuing a license for two new power reactors in South Carolina that will employ over 2000 workers during construction and over 600 when built. When Simpson asked about the status of the application, Chairman Jaczko responded that it is close and that it should be issued in less than a matter of months.