US regulator seeks to improve efficiency

19 July 2019

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proposed a reduction in the frequency and scope of inspections at the country's more than 90 nuclear power units to help reduce costs and improve efficiency. In response, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said "smarter regulations" can help nuclear plant owners and operators allocate time and resources to areas that most impact safety.

The Palisades plant (Image: Palisades Power)

The NRC report, Recommendations for enhancing the reactor oversight process, was published on 16 July after a year-long consultation process that included public meetings. The NRC said the proposed changes "will result in the staff performing an appropriate level of oversight with less regulatory burden and expenditure of resources by focusing oversight on issues of greater safety significance".

The report provides recommendations in three parts of the inspection process: removing and revising requirements in the assessment area; revising sample sizes and resource estimates for a number of baseline inspection procedures; and revising the determination process for Emergency Preparedness Areas.

NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick said: "The Reactor Oversight Process SECY has just been released to the public and NEI is reviewing it now. We look forward to the Commission's decision, and applaud the NRC staff effort to systematically evaluate the decades-old ROP to ensure that it reflects a more robust understanding of the current performance of the US nuclear fleet.

"The health and safety of our workers and the public always have been and always will be paramount. Our outstanding performance as an industry is due to an exceptional culture of safety at the nation’s nuclear power stations and a strong, independent regulator."

The NEI says on its website that it exists to ensure that the nation’s nuclear energy industry upholds only the highest safety standards, but that some regulations have become "too cumbersome" and new technology that could dramatically improve safety stays "mired in antiquated processes".

The NRC updated its regulatory approach in the mid-1990s, which the NEI says "demonstrably improved" industry and regulatory efficiency. "But the nuclear energy industry has evolved since then, and regulations need to evolve as well," it says.

"Streamlining regulations does not mean compromising on safety. On the contrary: smarter regulations can help nuclear plant owners and operators allocate time and resources to areas that most impact safety," it says.


The changes have raised concerns however from leaders of the House Appropriations Committee, who warned against "moving ahead with dramatic changes to NRC safety protocols without meaningful public input".

In a letter to NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki, committee leaders said: "To ensure nuclear power provides safe, reliable, emission-free energy, it is imperative for the NRC to uphold strong regulatory standards. That is why we are disturbed by the consideration of these far-reaching changes to the NRC's regulatory regime without first actively conducting robust public outreach and engagement."

The committee has requested that the NRC hold a public comment period prior to its commissioners voting on any changes to the Reactor Oversight Process.

The letter was signed by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey.

The House Committee on Appropriations is responsible for funding the federal government's "vital activities to keep the United States safe, strong, and moving forward". It currently comprises 30 Democrats and 23 Republicans.

The NRC report was published on the Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS), the NRC's official library and database.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News