Five former chairmen of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission—Stephen Burns, Allison Macfarlane, Nils Diaz, Richard Meserve, and Dale Klein—signed a letter to José Romero, Arkansas health secretary and chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization advisory committee, requesting that the advisory committee update its recommendation for COVID-19 vaccine allocation guidance for the energy workforce (including nuclear energy workers).
Currently, the CDC has four phases for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Those phases are numbered:
- 1a (the current phase), reserved for healthcare workers and those living in long-term care facilities;
- 1b, reserved for people 75 years and older and frontline essential workers;
- 1c, reserved for persons 65 to 74 years old, those aged 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and other categories of essential workers (this includes energy workers); and
- 2, for everyone else that was not named in the previous three phases aged 16 to 64.
The recommendation: The five past NRC chairmen express, in their letter to the CDC advisory committee, an understanding of the difficult and complex undertaking with which the CDC committee is tasked. The former chairs believe, however, that at least a portion of the nuclear energy workforce should be included in phase 1b. The letter states in bold, “We respectfully request that you consider increasing the priority for at least the subset of the nuclear energy workforce necessary to meet the NRC’s regulatory requirements for minimum staffing at nuclear power plants: control room operators, equipment operators, security officers, radiation protection technicians, maintenance technicians, and chemistry technicians. If a nuclear plant were unable to comply with the NRC’s staffing requirements, it would be required to shut down.”
Nuclear is essential: The letter provides background about the importance of nuclear power for our health infrastructure and national security while also informing the CDC advisory committee that “20 percent of our country’s overall electricity and 55 percent of its carbon-free electricity” is generated by the country’s nuclear fleet. The letter adds, “Essential nuclear energy workers ensure not only that our homes and businesses are powered, but that our nation’s critical infrastructure—from our telecommunications systems to the hospitals that care for our most vulnerable—remains functioning during this time of crisis.”