Nuclear Expert Talks About NRC Furlough Implications

Oct 10, 2013

Edwin Lyman
Credit Courtesy of the Union of Concerned Scientists

Amid the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now down to bare bones after some 90 percent of the agency’s staff has been furloughed. WAMC’s Allison Dunne spoke with a scientist whose expertise lies in nuclear power and safety, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear terrorism. He talks about his concerns and the furlough’s potential impacts.

What remains of the NRC staff are resident inspectors at nuclear sites, emergency response personnel, and a skeleton crew. Edwin Lyman is senior scientist with the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit, independent science advocacy group.

Another government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had to call back some of its furloughed employees earlier this week after a large salmonella outbreak that the CDC says has sickened some 280 people, mainly in California. The CDC says the likely cause is raw chicken from three California poultry facilities. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Lyman draws an analogy with a nuclear crisis.

He says some so-called non-essential NRC workers could become essential if a routine problem were to escalate at one of the nation’s nuclear power plants, such as Vermont Yankee or Indian Point.

He says though there is a small chance that something like an unplanned shutdown or abnormal readings could evolve into more serious incidents, it’s not a chance that should be taken. Lyman says he also is concerned that the furloughs could compromise the NRC’s role globally, and cites the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.

An NRC spokesman earlier this week said some 300 staff members would remain from about 3,900.