Time to hear from the public about the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Program

While nuclear power plants are an important source of electricity in the U.S., they also contain radioactive material and produce radioactivity that needs to be contained – both under ordinary circumstances and during accidents. The NRC requires many controls and barriers in nuclear power plants to protect workers and the public from the effects of radiation. And the NRC inspects the 104 commercial nuclear power plants daily in this country to make sure these requirements are met.

The NRC has full authority to take whatever action is necessary to protect public health and safety and if our inspections reveal issues, we can demand immediate actions — up to and including a plant shutdown.

These regular inspections are part of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP). This process uses objective, timely, and risk-informed criteria (meaning the most attention is paid to the most important elements of the safety process) to assess plant performance. There are seven cornerstones in the process that focus on the licensee’s ability to operate the plant safely, to respond promptly and appropriately to emergencies, to protect plant workers and the community and to protect against threat of radiological sabotage.

If a nuclear power plant is not meeting our requirements, they may get lowered scores in each area and be subject to more NRC scrutiny. The public can see an annual ROP report on each nuclear power plant online at ROP Action Matrix Summary and Current Regulatory Oversight web page.

Periodically, we re-assess the ROP to make sure it’s effective and to determine if we need to make any improvements. We value public input in this assessment—including both what is right and what needs improving! A survey that gives you a chance to weigh in is available here. We are looking for the surveys to be completed by January 13, 2012.

We really appreciate your time. We’ll keep you up to date on changes to the ROP on the blog and will be available online on the ROP Program Documents web page.

K. Jocelyn Lian
Reactor Operations Engineer

Watching the watchers: NRC oversight helps ensure state materials programs hit the mark

Federal law allows states to enter into agreements with the NRC which permit them to regulate the use of certain types of nuclear materials within their borders that would otherwise be overseen by the NRC. The NRC refers to these states as “Agreement States.”

Thirty-seven states have chosen to go this route, resulting in about 19,000 or the 22,000 material licenses nationwide falling under the jurisdiction of Agreement States. The other roughly 3,000 material licenses remain under the authority of the NRC.

Even though these agreements are in place, the NRC retains an oversight role. As such, the NRC periodically assesses the Agreement State programs to determine if they are adequate to protect public health and safety and are compatible with our program. (Materials inspections performed by the NRC’s Regional Offices are also subject to periodic reviews.)

Toward this end, the NRC in 1994 designed and piloted a new review process for Agreement State radioactive materials programs called the Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program, or IMPEP. In 1996, the NRC began full implementation of IMPEP.

So how exactly are these evaluations carried out? One of the first steps is to ask the Agreement State program being reviewed to respond to a questionnaire, which asks detailed questions about the program. Another initial step entails having qualified inspections accompany the program’s inspectors to assess their performance.

Next, a thorough on-site examination of records and interviews of program personnel are conducted.

Once the on-site review is finished, the IMPEP team – made up of NRC staff and experts from Agreement States other than the one being evaluated — issues a draft report of its findings to the program undergoing scrutiny for any comments on factual accuracy. Any comments received are then dispositioned and a proposed final report is issued.

A public meeting of a Management Review Board (MRB), which is comprised of senior NRC managers and an Agreement State manager who serves as a liaison, is held. At this session, the MRB reviews the proposed final IMPEP report and renders a final determination of the program’s adequacy and compatibility.

After this meeting is held, and the evaluation is finalized, the NRC issues a final report to the Agreement State that was reviewed. Those reports are made public in the NRC’s electronic document system.

Each day in the United States, radioactive materials are used for purposes that include the treatment and diagnosis of diseases, making food safer and industrial applications, such as detecting oil in the ground or cracks in pipes. The Agreement States, in conjunction with the NRC, work to ensure those uses remain as safe as possible for the public and for the environment.

Neil Sheehan
Region I Public Affairs Officer