What does the government shutdown mean for San Onofre nuke plant?

Sun sets on San Onofre nuclear plant

Ed Joyce/KPCC

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission furloughed most of its employees Thursday due to the federal government shutdown. The NRC said nuclear plant inspectors will remain on the job, including those assigned to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The continued shutdown of the federal government caused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to furlough 90 percent of its employees Thursday and cease normal operations. 

The NRC assigns what it calls "resident inspectors" to each active and decommissioned nuclear power plant in the country, including the San Onofre generating station. 

NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane wrote on the commission's public blog that all resident inspectors will remain on the job.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County near the border of Orange County. It's about two miles south of San Clemente.

The facility is currently shut down and in the beginning stages of being decommissioned or permanently closed.  The plant's operator and majority owner is Southern California Edison.

Earlier in the government shutdown, the NRC had postponed public meetings, including two in California, discussing the long-term storage of nuclear waste. 

The commission's website is accessible, but it won't be updated. Routine press releases, meeting notices, plant status and event reports, and other information will not be available. 

Macfarlane said the NRC will not conduct non-emergency reactor licensing, reactor license renewal amendments, emergency preparedness exercises, reviews of design certifications or rulemaking and regulatory guidance.

But she said any immediate safety or security matters will be handled quickly – even if it means bringing NRC employees out of furlough to respond.  

"We must, in this regard, err on the side of safety and security," she wrote.

Macfarlane also added some clarification regarding how the agency is funded. 

"Some people are confused about why the lapse of appropriations is affecting the NRC when we collect fees for 90 percent of our budget," she wrote. "The bottom line is this: the NRC is not funded directly by the fees we collect. Fees collected by the NRC must be deposited in the U.S. Treasury, and the Congress provides us an appropriation."

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