U.S. NRC Blog

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How the NRC uses Enforcement to Protect People and the Environment

A big part of the NRC’s mission to protect people and the environment depends on the companies and individuals we regulate meeting our requirements. The NRC’s Office of Enforcement has a number of tools that serve as deterrents and emphasize the importance of compliance with NRC requirements. These tools encourage the prompt identification and timely correction of violations by the licensee, certificate holder, or applicant. They include, in part, Notices of Violations, civil penalties, and Orders that modify, suspend or revoke a License.

The NRC’s Enforcement Policy spells out the NRC’s policies and procedures in initiating enforcement actions and the responsibilities of the Commission in reviewing these actions. But it is important to remember that a policy statement is not a regulation and the Commission may decide to deviate from the policy statement to respond appropriately to the circumstances of a particular case.

To identify violations of its regulations, the NRC conducts inspections and investigations. Violations have varying levels of significance. In assessing the significance of a violation, the NRC considers four specific factors:

(1) actual safety or security consequences;

(2) potential safety or security consequences;

(3) impact on the ability of the NRC to perform its regulatory oversight function; and

(4) willfulness.

Willful violations are of particular concern to the NRC because the agency’s regulatory program is based on licensees and their contractors, employees, and agents acting with integrity. For most violations identified at power reactors, the significance of a violation is assessed using the significance determination process of the Reactor Oversight Process.

The Enforcement Policy was last updated on July 12, 2011, after interaction with affected stakeholders. We’re happy to take any questions or comments you have about the policy in the comments below.

John Wray
Sr. Enforcement Specialist

3 responses to “How the NRC uses Enforcement to Protect People and the Environment

  1. Anonymous April 27, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I AM BEHIND MARTHA COAKLEY 100%
    I PLAN TO BE A SOCIAL ACTIVITS TO PROTEST THE IRRESPONSIBLE DECISION TO RELICENCE
    PILGRIM POWER PLANT WITHOUT MAJOR SAFTEY REVISIONS
    OPEN YOUR EYES TO HISTORY -IT USUALY REPEATS ITSELF UNLESS YOU AND I
    CHERISH LIFE-TAKE ACTION -DO THE RIGHT THING
    CHERISH LIFE-TAKE ACTION -DO THE RIGHT THING
    CHERISH LIFE-TAKE ACTION-DO THE RIGHT THING

  2. Nora Reid-LeZotte April 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    How do I get information about the degree of embrittlement of the reactor chamber (vessel) at Palisades in Michigan? Why Entergy has not been compiled to reinforce this vessel and why Entergy (worst safety record in the business) is allowed to continue to operate this seriously age-degraded facility on the shores of Lake Michigan with inadequate dry cask storage on the BEACH??

    • Moderator May 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      From the Moderator: The NRC is aware of embrittlement concerns with the reactor vessel at the Palisades nuclear plant and has taken steps to monitor the condition and ensure safety. The NRC conducted a thorough review of reactor head embrittlement at Palisades and determined the vessel will remain safe to operate until 2017. Prior to this date, Entergy is required to provide the NRC with a new analysis of the head’s suitability for continued operation. If the NRC does not agree that the head can operate safely beyond 2017, the plant would need to shut down until this issue is resolved. We require the plant to monitor this condition and conduct independent inspections to verify the condition of the reactor vessel is safe for continued operation. You can review the information on this issue by accessing the following documents through the NRC’s Electronic Public Documents System at http://adams.nrc.gov/wba/ by entering the following ML numbers as a search term:

      Most recent data associated with embrittlement and Entergy’s request to the NRC to revise the reactor vessel pressurized thermal shock evaluation – ML110060692

      The NRC”s review and conclusions that the vessel continues to be acceptable until 2017 – ML112870050.

      It’s important to note that the NRC responded to the performance deficiencies identified at Palisades in 2011 by significantly increasing our inspections and oversight at the plant. If we determine that Palisades isn’t operating safely, we would shut it down. At this point, the NRC’s assessment is that the plant is operating safely but Entergy needs to correct the problems that came to light last year. The plant will remain under the regulatory magnifying glass until the NRC is satisfied Entergy has effectively addressed these deficiencies. There are currently two other plants in the country in the same performance column as Palisades and two plants whose performance is more degraded:

      http://www.nrc.gov/NRR/OVERSIGHT/ASSESS/actionmatrix_summary.html

      As to your final question, the NRC is not aware of any outstanding safety issues with dry cask storage at Palisades. NRC inspectors who specialize in dry cask storage conduct regular inspections at the plant. They verify the safety of this program in a number of ways, such as monitoring the loading of casks; inspecting the structural condition of dry fuel storage areas; reviewing radiological conditions of fuel storage areas, and verifying the safe loading and storage of fuel. The results of these inspections are publically available on the NRC’s website.

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