U.S. NRC Blog

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Licensing Project Managers – The NRC’s Expert Generalists

Lauren Gibson

Lauren Gibson

Lauren Gibson
Licensing Project Manager
 

A licensing project manager for an operating reactor has a lot of responsibilities. We coordinate technical reviews, interface with the licensee, support the regional staff and the resident inspectors, respond during any incidents, and serve as the headquarters point of contact for anything related to the plant. We’re basically expert generalists who need a solid understanding of all the operational and licensing situations for each plant– and, importantly – the ability to communicate about it all.

I’ve been a licensing project manager for about three years, currently for the Palo Verde nuclear facility in Arizona and Columbia Generating Station in Washington State. The majority of my time is spent coordinating the review of license amendment requests. A plant’s license is much more complicated than your driver’s license. It does far more than just grant permission to operate a nuclear facility. The license also specifies how it is to be run.

Imagine having a driver’s license that required you to keep the gas tank more than half full and all four tires inflated to a certain pressure. If you wanted to wait until only a quarter of a tank remained to get more gas or you wanted to change the pressure level in your tires, you’d have to apply to amend your license. I am the person who receives those equivalent requests for my particular sites.

Those requests are then reviewed by a team of appropriate scientists, engineers, and experts, with the project manager responsible for engaging those experts and keeping an eye on the entire review. The project manager is in charge of coordinating schedules, interfacing with the licensee (the operator of the plant), ensuring that public documents are written in plain English, and packaging the final approval or denial of the request with a clear justification. In my experience, licensees have four to12 such requests at the NRC at a time. The project manager needs to understand the technical aspects of each one.

The project manager also needs to be aware of conditions at the site. The project manager serves as the headquarters point of contact for all matters related to the site, so it’s very important to know what’s going on. Every workday, I participate in a conference call with the resident inspectors and the region to discuss plant status and concerns. If the region or the residents need any headquarters support, I am there to provide it directly or to arrange it.

One of the most important and, thankfully, infrequent duties of the project manager is to respond in case of an incident at the site. If the headquarters operations center is activated, I will report there and provide site specific information. Having someone there who is familiar with the site, the conditions at the site, and any licensing and operational issues is important.

We also have the pleasure and responsibility of ensuring that the NRC is being open and transparent to the public. Licensing project managers run many of the site-specific headquarters public meetings.

So, while licensing project managers need to understand the highly technical aspects of a review or a performance issue, we also need to see the big picture, and how one issue may relate to other issues or actions at the plant. And we have to communicate it to all stakeholders – both inside and outside the NRC. It’s a great job, and one I’m happy to be doing. But it’s not easy being an expert generalist.

14 responses to “Licensing Project Managers – The NRC’s Expert Generalists

  1. Vanetti @ Instabox March 8, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Seems too complex! I am thankful to you for sharing the experience.

  2. arthur rosenzweig Yale 53 February 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    so what happened with Pilgrim nuclear, where you and they now stand accused of criminal ..colluson to hide the inability of Cape Cod –an island–to evacuate.

  3. kurtpenner February 15, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Lauren – your blog precipitated a thought and concern as to the effectiveness of resident inspectors at regulated facilities and as to their responsibilities to prevent or curb a licensee from underperforming and violating licensee requirements. Are the NRC’s routine inspection findings and performance indicators capable of identifying repetitive degradations of single cornerstones as per your ROP matrix? For example, should the NRC have identified the numerous performance and technical issue findings of Fort Calhoun Station in Nebraska BEFORE the Missouri River flooding and eventual electrical switchgear fire?

    • Moderator February 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      In addition to the resident inspectors at each plant, special inspections of various types may also be initiated in response to possible deficiencies at plants. The Reactor Oversight Process is outlined here: http://www.nrc.gov/NRR/OVERSIGHT/ASSESS/index.html . It offers stringent inspections based on plant performance. Since I am not the manager for Fort Calhoun and can’t speak directly to the technical findings at that plant. For more information on oversight at Fort Calhoun, please go here: http://www.nrc.gov/NRR/OVERSIGHT/ASSESS/FCS/fcs_chart.html

      Lauren Gibson

      • kurtpenner February 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm

        Lauren – I appreciate your reply, but my question is very specific and one of your colleges might be better suited to answer. Why did it take an unusual event to occur before the NRC identifies numerous performance deficiencies (techincal issues, safety attitude, performance attitude, etc.)? What are the responsibilities of a resident inspector?
        Thank you!

      • Kurt Penner February 18, 2013 at 9:12 am

        I appreciate your reply, but my question is very specific and one of your colleges might be better suited to answer. Why did it take an unusual event to occur before the NRC finally identified numerous performance deficiencies (technical, safety attitude, performance attitude, etc.)?
        What are the responsibilities of a resident inspector?
        Thank you

    • Moderator February 20, 2013 at 11:28 am

      The NRC inspection program is proactive: it is meant to identify and correct problems before they become a significant safety concern. At Fort Calhoun Station, a regulatory hold was put in place effective Sept. 2, 2011, because the NRC saw the need for increased oversight. Increased oversight, known as the IMC 0350 process, will provide reasonable assurance of public health/safety prior to plant restart. While it’s true that Fort Calhoun has had performance issues, the NRC is engaging the plant operators to address these concerns. In fact, it was the NRC that identified a flood mitigation issue back in 2009 prior to the record floods in 2011. We are confident in our oversight process and will continue the important work of ensuring all issues are addressed by the licensee.

      Lara Uselding

      • Anonymous February 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

        OH YES, OH YES, NRC CAN AND DOES DO ALL IT CAN TO PROTECT THE HUMANS. THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO. AND, IF WHAT THEY DO, ISN’T ENOUGH, WELL WE’RE …… I’D LIKE TO KNOW WHAT NRC WILL DO WHEN ALL THE ALLOCATED SPACE FOR THE NUCLEAR WASTE HAS BEEN USED UP. PASS THIS ON TO ANYONE WHO CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

        Jim Matthews, Columbia, SC

  4. Diane Smith February 15, 2013 at 11:14 am

    “And we have to communicate it to all stakeholders – both inside and outside the NRC.”

    Why? The stakeholders don’t seem to be paying for anything anymore. The costs of nuclear plants are being sloughed on ratepayers. We’re living in the age of “corporate welfare”.

    • Moderator February 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      The NRC communicates with stakeholders as part of its commitment to conducting its regulatory process in an open and transparent way. This includes communicating with the public, many of whom are ratepayers. More information on our Open Government initiatives is available here: http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/open.html

      Lauren Gibson

  5. Guillermo Alcocer February 15, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I see that’s a really complex job. Thanks for share your experiences with us.

  6. Anonymous February 15, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Ms. Lauren Gibson (Licensing Project Manager)
    I read what your duties are and maybe you can give me a definitive answer. I understand there is a freeze on any new licensing for building New Nuclear reactor sites in the USA. I would like to know exactly why, in as few words as possible, why this freeze has occurred.

    In addition, and in conjunction with the freeze, I am confused as to why any incomplete Nuclear reactor site building is still allowed to continue. If there is a physical reason, such as lack of storage of nuclear waste due to the shutdown of the Yucca Mountain storage faculty for nuclear waste, then why would construction of new reactor sites continue ? I hope the reason is not because the incomplete reactor sites already have their license.

    James C. Matthews
    Columbia, SC

    • Moderator February 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      In response to the decision in June 2012 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, the Commission decided to stop all licensing activities that rely on the Waste Confidence Decision and Rule. The NRC created a Waste Confidence Directorate to oversee the drafting of a new Waste Confidence Environmental Impact Statement and Rule. The Commission has instructed the Directorate to issue the final Environmental Impact Statement and Rule by no later than September 2014. For now, the staff have been instructed to continue their reviews, but no new licenses will be approved. Here is a link to the project impacted:

      http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1227/ML12276A038.pdf

      For an explanation of the waste confidence decision and rule, please see the blog post “Deciphering the Waste Confidence Order” from August 9, 2012 (http://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2012/08/09/deciphering-the-waste-confidence-order/).

      The licenses for the new Vogtle and Summer reactors are valid, as is the construction permit for the unfinished Watts Bar 2 reactor, so construction at those sites is acceptable.

      Lauren Gibson

      • Anonymous February 15, 2013 at 11:23 pm

        It is still unclear why an incomplete Nuclear site has a license to continue building when waste confidence is based on exsisting structural ability and space to store waste. Is it being based on proposed space alone and not on the facility to store the waste ?

        I can not see anyway it can be determined that there will be enough space to store Nuclear waste, regardless, especially in areas in the north east part of the country where populations are so densely populated. I would think the tonnage of waste that is created yearly in the north east is already encrouching unsafe distances from residential areas.

        This is the point. It is totally irresponsible to believe that there will be enough space to store nuclear waste indefinitely. I don’t care what diety decided it was ok to continue building sites ! You tell those pompous judges to have that nuclear waste put in their backyard and see how that flys !This is the reason to stop building more Nuclear sites.

        James C. Matthews
        Columbia, SC

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