The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Temporarily Closes

NPR icon by Geoff Brumfiel
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Jeff Haynes

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation's one hundred nuclear reactors, has announced it will temporarily close its doors on Wednesday evening, due to the government shutdown. Safety operations will not be affected.

The NRC had stashed a little bit of extra money from the previous fiscal year to carry it through the first week of the shutdown. That cash ran out today, and all but 300 of the agencies 3,900 employees will be furloughed starting tomorrow. Those who remain on duty include on-site inspectors at all of the nation's nuclear reactors and a small emergency-response staff.

NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane says safety oversight at operating reactors will not be affected: "The agency will maintain our watchfulness of the reactors," she told NPR in an interview. "But we won't be doing much else."

License applications for new reactor designs will be shelved, public meetings suspended, and regular reports on reactor operations halted.

The biggest impact could be on an overhaul of the so-called "waste confidence ruling", a regulation that allows nuclear power-plant operators to store used nuclear fuel on site for relatively long periods of time. The revision to the rule is important, because the U.S. still doesn't a central repository for its nuclear waste. To move forward, the proposed rule had to be discussed in a series of public meetings around the country. Those meetings have been cancelled until further notice.

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