US NRC recommends reduced nuclear safety inspections

Umar Ali 18 July 2019 (Last Updated July 9th, 2020 11:54)

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has published a report advocating for weakened or reduced safety inspections for nuclear power plants.

US NRC recommends reduced nuclear safety inspections
The NRC’s report has been challenged by politicians and environmental groups. Credit: Max Pixel.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has published a report advocating for weakened or reduced safety inspections for nuclear power plants.

The Recommendations for enhancing the reactor oversight process report, published on Tuesday, follows a yearlong consultation process, including correspondence with stakeholders and public meetings.

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.

In the report, the NRC maintained that these changes would improve efficiency and allow inspectors to focus on more important safety concerns, adding that the amendments would help staff perform “an appropriate level of oversight with less regulatory burden and expenditure of resources by focusing oversight on issues of greater safety significance.”

The report has been criticised by a number of Democratic politicians and environmental groups. In a letter to the NRC chair Kristine Svinicki, House Appropriations 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.

“It would be a mistake to attempt to make nuclear power more cost competitive by weakening NRC’s vital safety oversight. Cutting corners on such critical safety measures may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry.”

This report follows similar regulation changes in the offshore oil and gas industry, with the US administration rolling back climate regulations on methane emissions in September 2018 and weakening offshore safety regulations in May 2019.

When approached for comment, the NRC said: “The report speaks for itself.”

Nuclear Energy Institute CEO and president Maria Korsnick told Power Technology: “The Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) 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 U.S. 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.”