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NRC Seen Avoiding Furloughs After Budget Cuts, Chief Says

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will be spared furloughs or pay cuts should government spending reductions take effect at the end of this year, Chairman Allison Macfarlane told employees.

“There’s a potential for significant budget reductions under sequestration,” as the cuts are known, Macfarlane said today while meeting with agency employees in Rockville, Maryland. Commissioners didn’t speculate as to how individual agency programs may be affected and Macfarlane declined to answer questions after the meeting.

The NRC budget is $1 billion, with about 90 percent recovered from fees on reactor owners. The Congress-approved spending would be cut about $85 million, or 8.2 percent, under the the law passed to cut the deficit, according to a September report from the White House Office of Management & Budget. Lawmakers can still vote to avert the reductions.

While Macfarlane, who joined the agency in July, said she thinks the NRC’s budget is generally “managed well,” Commissioner Kristine Svinicki said there is room for “substantial improvement.” Svinicki didn’t say what changes should be made.

In addition to dealing with possible budget constraints, the NRC is considering new regulations in response to a triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in Japan after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Three of the 104 U.S. operating reactors shut last week during Hurricane Sandy, and a fourth, Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey, declared an alert and remains off line.

Macfarlane said she is focused on consideration of the Fukushima-related rules and how natural disasters including flooding may affect nuclear regulation.

“We need to be proactive in understanding how the earth is changing,” she said.

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