The NRC assesses the safety of all 104 nuclear reactors in this country by looking closely at seven different safety “cornerstones.” These are the fundamentals of nuclear plant safety such as “public radiation safety,” and “barrier integrity.” The severity of any performance issue is assessed using a color-coded system as part of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP).
However, for the past 10 years or so, the NRC assessed nuclear plant security using a separate oversight process. The NRC made the separation shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, to limit the possibility that anyone could extrapolate potential protective-measure vulnerabilities at its licensed facilities. The NRC has since enhanced security requirements.
In June, 2011, the staff submitted a paper, SECY-11-0073, to the Commission seeking approval of a proposal to reintegrate nuclear plant security into the existing ROP. This will achieve a more integrated assessment of licensee performance. On July 20, 2011, the Commission approved the staff’s proposal.
So what does this mean? It means that experts in safety and experts in security are working together now to implement this reintegration and are updating the Inspection Manuals used by the staff. The goal is to complete these by July 2012. The NRC will communicate the changes to licensees, through a Regulatory Issue Summary, to provide them with the implementation plan and effective date.
The staff will continue to issue security inspection reports and letters for security findings in the same manner as today, except instead of separate assessment letters for safety and security, they will be combined into a single letter issued every six months. As is already the case, sensitive security-related information will not be contained in the public version of the assessment letters.
The public website will be revised to include security cornerstone assessment inputs, but with a different color scheme than used for safety violations. For example, the color blue will signify a greater-than-green (white, yellow, or red) security input.
When the website is updated to reflect reintegration, plants with pre-existing security issues will appear to shift in the ROP Action Matrix. In all cases, the NRC will have already identified the input under the security assessment process and will be in various states of planning, performing, or completing the NRC’s response and inspection for those issues.
The reintegration of security and safety is important because it will allow the NRC to achieve a more integrated assessment of licensee performance and make the integrated assessment information available to the public. However, that does not mean that details about security will be made publicly available. The NRC will continue to protect security-related information so that it cannot be used by potential adversaries.Kevin Roche Reactor Operations Engineer