ABC11 Investigates

Shutdown brings furloughs to Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The latest casualty of the federal shutdown means furloughs for thousands of workers at the nuclear regulatory commission.

In all, 3,600 workers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were sent home Thursday.

A spokesperson for Shearon Harris told ABC11 that none of those furloughs would affect employees there.

There are two resident inspectors from the NRC who work at the nuclear power plant southwest of Raleigh, but they will remain on the job. They are part of the 300 NRC workers considered essential because they are responsible for addressing immediate safety and security matters at the plant.

"Our top focus every day is the safe operation of our plants across Duke Energy, that has not changed. Our NRC inspectors at Harris remain working, as they are at every nuclear plant in the country," Shearon Harris spokesperson Beth Stevenson said.

Shearon Harris has the largest spent fuel pools in the country, which hold used nuclear material being kept cool by constantly circulated water.

Anti-nuclear groups have long warned of the potential problems at facilities like Shearon Harris, and local watchdogs say the cuts at the NRC will not help.

"They're already outgunned and behind the curve, so it's not a good situation that they're being pulled off the job, at all," NC WARN's Jim Warren said.

Warren admits that in the short term the government shutdown will not affect much at Shearon Harris, but he worries about what could happen if it continues and the thousands of NRC workers considered non-essential cannot get back to work.

"The longer we go without the proper safety protocols and people in place, the greater the chance that something goes wrong, at one of the plants and possibly Shearon Harris," Warren said.

The NRC told ABC11 that their employees are still completing day-to-day inspections of the 100 nuclear reactors around the country.

They said licensing work, legal cases, regulatory meetings are not getting done. Workers who completed specialized inspections such as security, fire, and flooding inspections were also sent home.  Drills, security, and disaster exercises are on hold for now as well.

It is unclear if any of those were scheduled at Shearon Harris. The people who are able to release that information have been furloughed.

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