The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has requested a $970.7 million budget for fiscal 2019, a nearly $60 million spike from the current level largely on the back of proposed funding for licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
The number of full-time equivalent positions at the nuclear industry regulator, meanwhile, would drop by 147 compared to present levels, according to the budget proposal issued Monday. Adjustments in reactor safety work account for the majority of the reduction as part of an ongoing right-sizing at the agency.
Like most other federal agencies, the NRC has been frozen at fiscal 2017 funding levels under a series of short-term budgets that have kept the U.S. government operating since fiscal 2018 began on Oct. 2. That means an annualized figure of $910.9 million, covering five areas: nuclear reactor safety, nuclear materials and waste safety, corporate support, the Integrated University Program, and the Office of the Inspector General.
The NRC originally requested $30 million for Yucca Mountain licensing activities in fiscal 2018, but in the absence of a congressionally approved budget there is no money for this work in the continuing resolutions. For fiscal 2019, the agency is seeking $47.7 million.
The budget proposal would also add $10 million for establishing a regulatory infrastructure for advanced nuclear reactor systems, while there would be no funding for the Integrated University Program – a 10-year multiagency grants program established in 2009 in which the NRC received $15 million to help strengthen the nuclear workforce.
The NRC’s staff member full-time equivalents would drop from 3,396 in 2018 to a projected 3,247 in 2019, according to Monday’s budget request. That would be down by more than 500 personnel from fiscal 2014.
Personnel decreases this year are expected to be handled by hiring controls and attrition, which is roughly 3 percent to 5 percent annually, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.
Victor McCree, the NRC’s executive director for operations, and Maureen Wylie, the agency’s chief financial officer, said it is unknown whether the downward trend will continue in future years. Speaking to reporters during a telephone briefing, they said the NRC will keep tweaking its personnel numbers to find the best combinations.
“Our focus is to become more efficient, more effective and more agile,” McCree said.