That US government shutdown is still causing all kinds of problems, and this one's a doozy. Starting tomorrow, some 90 per cent of the workers who watch over America's 100 nuclear reactors will be furloughed. Since these guys are sort of the first line of defence in a nuclear disaster, that's really bad news.
Thankfully, a few of the nation's nuclear regulators will stick around to sound the alarms if something bad happens. To be exact, 300 "resident inspectors" from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will remain on the job to keep an eye on the 63 different nuclear power plants across the country. That is very much a skeleton crew, however, considering that 3600 employees will not be going to work. They will call in more employees if there's an emergency, but it's unclear how many.
The NRC wants you to know that everything's going to be OK though. "We are going to make sure that we continue our oversight of the plants because the resident inspectors will be on duty, and we are prepared to respond to an emergency on short notice," NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner told the press. NRC chairman Allison Macfarlane expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post saying that the agency "must… err on the side of safety and security." No duh.
But obviously people get a little shaken up when it comes to messing around with nuclear power. Ed Lyman with the Union of Concerned Scientists said it best: "Yes, I am worried." Then again, those guys are always worried. [CNN]