Nuclear industry push for reduced oversight gaining traction

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer mock commando raids to test nuclear power plants’ defenses against terrorist attacks. Fewer, smaller government inspections for plant safety issues. Less notice to the public and to state governors when problems arise.

They’re part of the money-saving rollbacks sought by the country’s nuclear industry under President Donald Trump and already approved or pending approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, largely with little input from the general public.

The nuclear power industry says the safety culture at the U.S. nuclear industry — 40 years after partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island — is “exceptional” and merits the easing of government inspections.

Maria Korsnick, president of the industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, said she welcomed changes in NRC plant oversight procedure “to ensure that it reflects a more robust understanding of the current performance of the U.S. nuclear fleet.”

Opponents say the changes are bringing the administration’s business-friendly, rule-cutting mission to an industry — nuclear reactors — where the stakes are too high to cut corners.

While many of the regulatory rollbacks happening at other agencies under the current administration may be concerning, “there aren’t many that come with the existential risks of a nuclear reactor having a malfunction,” said Geoff Fettus, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council on nuclear issues.

This week, the NRC released staff recommendations for rollbacks in safety inspections for the 90-plus U.S. nuclear power plants and for less flagging of plant problems for the public. Democratic lawmakers and one NRC commissioner expressed concern about the safety risks and urged the commission to seek broader public comment before proceeding.

The country’s nuclear regulators were looking at “far-reaching changes to the NRC’s regulatory regime without first actively conducting robust public outreach and engagement,” New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone Jr., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a letter to NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki.

Svinicki and two other NRC commissioners did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment made through the agency’s public affairs staff. A fourth commissioner, Jeff Baran, spoke out Tuesday, saying he opposed cutting inspections and reducing oversight.