Leaner NRC prepares for future

01 May 2015

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in the final stages of a project to streamline its operations, chairman Stephen Burns said in an update on progress at the agency.

Burns, who took up his position as chair of the NRC on 1 January, made the remarks about the agency's Project Aim 2020 in an address to the US Energy Association's annual meeting in Washington DC. Launched in mid-2014, Project Aim 2020 is tasked with identifying ways to improve efficiency, safety, security and safeguards missions while streamlining processes and limiting costs through the most responsible and effective use of NRC resources.

Recommendations focusing on four primary areas were finalized and reported back to the Commission in January of this year, Burns said, and the Commission is now in the last stages of finalizing its direction to staff. The recommendations call for reducing the agency's workforce to around 3400 from a current level of around 3700.

"My fellow commissioners and I are taking a hard look at how to ensure the agency maintains the ability to perform our safety and security mission while also being more efficient. We know that we need to retain the appropriate skill sets to accomplish our mission, but we recognize that we can improve on how we reprioritize activities based on emergent needs and can respond more quickly to changing conditions," Burns said.

Fukushima actions nearly complete

Substantial progress continues to be made in implementing safety enhancements identified following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. Burns said that the NRC expects that most US licensees will complete the implementation of the majority of the most safety-significant enhancements by 2016.

Over half of the nation's nuclear power plants are scheduled to achieve full implementation of the NRC's 2012 Mitigation Strategies order by the end of this year, with the rest completing the necessary actions in 2016.

Decommissioning rule

An area where the NRC has experienced an unanticipated increase in workload recently is the oversight of reactor decommissioning. After 15 years in which no power reactor permanently closed down, the agency has been faced with the recent closure of five reactors before the end of their operating licence, Burns noted.

Although the agency has extensive experience with regulating plant decommissioning, it is not specifically addressed in NRC regulations. The agency is therefore in the process of drawing up a rulemaking on reactor decommissioning, which is expected to be completed by early 2019. The rule is ultimately expected to increase further the efficiency and predictability of the NRC's regulatory program.

Burns concluded his presentation by paying tribute to the NRC's "dedicated, talented and knowledgable" staff. "It is the strength of our staff and their commitment to maintaining the safe and secure use of nuclear materials and facilities that has established the agency's world-wide reputation as a strong, independent and competent regulator", he said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News