Who Pays for the NRC?

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project | April 8, 2014, 6:00 am EDT
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Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #27

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has at least two inspectors assigned full-time to each operating nuclear plant in the United States. The efforts by these resident inspectors are supplemented by inspectors from the agency’s regional and headquarters offices.

When plant owners apply to the NRC to renew reactor operating licenses for up to 20 more years and operate reactors at higher power levels, NRC staff review the requests to determine whether they can be approved.

Other NRC staff conduct research of known and potential problems as well as possible solutions.

Who pays for the NRC?

For the most part, it’s not the American taxpayer. A federal law passed in 1990 requires about 90 percent of the NRC’s budget to come from fees charged to those regulated by the agency.

In other words, the plant owners pay for the NRC’s resident inspectors, regional inspectors, headquarters inspectors, researchers, and mangers. And think what you will about the NRC—they don’t come cheap.

In 2013, the NRC’s budget was $986,000,000 for its staff of 3,931.

NEAT 27 Figure 1 NRC Budget and Staff 2003-2013

(click to enlarge)

Each year, the NRC proposes a budget to the Congress. Some years, the Congress approves the budget. The NRC then divides the approved budget by the number of licensees to determine the fees to be charged.

In 2013, the NRC invoiced the owner of each operating reactor $4,390,000. Thus, the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the three reactors operating at its Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama, paid $13,170,000. Owners of each operating reactor pay over $500 per hour 24/7 for the NRC’s basic service.

But what about the four reactors (Crystal River 3, Kewaunee, and San Onofre Units 2 and 3) that permanently shut down last year? Because they receive less NRC time and attention, their owners pay lower fees: only $231,000 per permanently shut down reactor.

Extras Cost Extra

These fees entitle owners to basic NRC service. You want extra NRC service, you have to pay extra.

When an owner submits a request to the NRC to renew a reactor operating license for 20 more years, the NRC will review that request, at the modest rate of $272 per hour.

When declining performance levels at a plant compel the NRC to dispatch additional inspectors, the NRC invoices the owner for this “extra” service. As the range of NRC inspection hours per reactor during 2012 shows, owners have safety and financial reasons to prevent performance levels from declining at their nuclear plants.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Fuller details about the NRC’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget can be found in their request to the Congress.

Bottom Line

Ratepayers rather than taxpayers pay nearly 90 percent of the NRC’s budget. A difference without much distinction since the dollars all come from Americans’ pockets.


The UCS Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit (NEAT) is a series of post intended to help citizens understand nuclear technology and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s processes for overseeing nuclear plant safety.

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  • Richard

    Your last sentence says a lot: consumers pay for the NRC via the rates they are charged by the utilities. Has anyone done any audits on how the utilities calculate these fees into their rates? The cynical part of me suspects that the utilities are over-charging us consumers….hmm, I wonder?!?

  • Stephen Galperin

    “the NRC will review that request, at the modest rate of $272 per hour.”

    I’m not sure if your being facetious, but I’d be willing to bet the the law firms and the engineering consulting firms the review the extension request prior to submittal charge a whole lot more than $272 per hour. In fact that’s only slightly more than a person would pay for a good civil lawyer where I live in southern New Hampshire.

  • Shaun Brixey

    I think the most concerning issue here is what the NRC is doing with our billion dollars. They have consistently shown themselves to be ill-prepared to perform their charge in an efficient or sensible manner. The experienced staff members are not keeping up with the technology changes and the staff brought in to deal with technology lack industry understanding. We have lost our place as a global industry leader and our regulator is little more than a political tool at this point.

    I’d be very interested to see where their money goes.

  • Sean McKinnon

    What about the merchant plants that compete in unregulated markets? They can’t just pass these fees on to consumers as they have to compete.

  • Richard Boscon

    Duh … Ratepayers ARE Taxpayers … just because you’re taking it out of my left hand rather than my right hand doesn’t mean that it’s not coming from me … any entity that I’m buying from, I’m paying their taxes … and … all the rest of their expenses. I am all for the need for a regulatory agency to help prevent another FUK-U-SHIMA … but … if the 500 reactors currently operating are providing 16% (or 1/7) of the world’s electricity needs (which logically means that 3500 reactors could provide all of that need), then why are there over 13,000 reactors proposed or planned or under construction at this time … just how much will the final balloon payment be for us taxpayers … oops … I mean ratepayers???