U.S. NRC Blog

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Sixty-Plus Years of Reactor Safety Advice — and Still Going Strong

Ed Hackett
Executive Director
Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards

For as long as the United States has worked on commercial nuclear power plants, a group of experts has given regulators independent safety advice. Since Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the group’s been called the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.

The committee’s dozen or so members contribute decades of academic and/or practical experience in their specialties, which include risk assessment, health physics, accident analysis and several types of engineering. Past and present committee members have also lent their expertise to international regulators.

Members of the ACRS brief the NRC Commission.

Members of the ACRS brief the NRC Commission.

When there’s an opening on the committee, the Commission chooses a replacement from nominees among the leading experts in a given specialty. Committee members are supported by a small group of NRC staff who focus solely on the committee’s independent activities.

The full committee meets 10 times a year, spending several days each time to discuss a broad range of topics. For instance, this month’s meeting agenda included a developing new rule related to safety enhancements based on lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. Other meetings have covered reviews of new reactor licensing topics and operating reactor license renewal, as well as proposed facilities to create radioactive material for medical uses.

Committee members ask detailed questions of both NRC staff and industry representatives. If members feel an issue needs more explanation or analysis, they’ll keep asking questions and challenging assumptions until they’re satisfied. All of this interaction contributes to the committee’s opinions on the topics.

The committee’s conclusions, which are independent of the NRC staff’s work, are provided in formal letters to the NRC’s Chairman. The Commission takes the committee’s views into account when it considers licensing or policy matters. The committee also meets publicly with the Commission at least once a year to discuss major topics. The Commission uses the advice provided by the committee, in addition to the information provided by the NRC staff, in reaching its decisions on regulatory matters.

The committee also has an obligation to advise the U.S. Navy on its nuclear reactor program, as well as the Defense Nuclear Safety Board, which deals with Department of Energy-controlled facilities.

The committee does all of this work according to the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. This means all committee meetings are public, except when discussing sensitive information the NRC needs to protect. It also means the public can speak and present information to the committee. Keep an eye on our schedule to see when we’ll discuss something you’re interested in. Also, see our YouTube videeo on the ACRS.

32 responses to “Sixty-Plus Years of Reactor Safety Advice — and Still Going Strong

  1. Public Pit Bull December 20, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Those Damn Reactor Operators!

    And now mjd for a little nuclear tongue in cheek…

    Can you just imagine what was really going through the minds of the nuke utility execs, the ACRS, the NRC, the nuclear reactor vendors, and Naval Reactors to the accident at TMI2?!

    Why those damn reactor operators! They have gone and spoiled it all! I always knew they were the weak link in the system! I just knew they would eventually screw things up. We gave them everything and this is the thanks we get! They are just overpaid and lazy. They obviously went to sleep at the switch and now there is hell to pay. We need to really square them away! Let’s hire many more inspectors and inspect quality into this operation. They are jeopardizing our pocketbooks and livelihoods. If they would have just used common sense and kept track of the big picture none of this would have happened. We taught them everything we know and they just overreacted. If they just hadn’t messed with our beautiful technology! Why didn’t they just keep their damn hands off the controls. Inadequate training, hell, we just had inadequate operators. We really don’t need to fundamentally change a thing. We, however, need much more oversight of this untrustworthy lot. We need not one but two resident NRC inspectors at each nuclear site. We need technical advisors and engineers on each shift who will really focus on reactor safety. And we need lots more procedures and verbatim compliance. And we have got to make sure these operators are fit for duty. We now have to spend lots of extra money to make folks think we are doing the right thing. Millions on simulators, INPO, emergency planning, etc, etc. What a waste!

  2. Public Pit Bull December 19, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    AND mjd I can blame the Naval Nuclear Reactors training program as well. You somehow kept the big picture. From day one of nuclear power hasn’t the emphasis always been on the #1 priority-keeping the core covered, cooled, and subcritical?! Even in the NR program going solid in the reactor cooling system was a sin against God, country, and Rickover personally! (And at the time I was much more afraid of Rickover than the other two). I think I would have responded as a EOOW to avoid going solid at any cost then, totally forgetting about my #1 priority. I do not recall any Navy training that told me going solid was not the end of the world as we know it. So you rupture the cooling system, just scram the reactor and go to “FILL” to keep the core covered, right?! How could we have been so myopic back then?! Is there something like that still out there that might get in the way of our #1 priority?!

  3. Public Pit Bull December 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    And mjd I am sorry but I certainly did not want to imply that all pre-TMI training was suspect. Operators responded well to a number of very abnormal events as you stated. It is just that the most important part of the training was lost in the flavor of the month topic.

  4. Public Pit Bull December 19, 2014 at 5:47 am

    Duh! It took me a long time, typical for my age though, to figure out just who Rod Adams and “mjd” were?! Thanks for your valuable insights. I just discovered Rod’s March 25, 2014, article published by the American Nuclear Society on “What Did We Learn from TMI?” It is outstanding and leaves out nothing. The comments that are posted on the article are for the most part outstanding too, including comments by “mjd”. I did not know that the ACRS was aware of the TMI-precursor event at Davis-Besse in 1977. Yet because of the lack of an industry system for sharing industry operating experience, the word never got out to the staff at TMI. What changes were made to ACRS policies and procedures post-TMI to address lessons learned from the TMI accident?

    • mjd December 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

      PPB, if you are an “old schooler” and like to read new schooler comments questioning my historical perspective, read the comments here: http://atomicinsights.com/tmi-operators-took-actions-trained-take/
      There are new school nuke trainers who basically refuse to believe my recall of history that I lived through relative to the wrong training specific to the TMI2 event.
      As far as the general conclusion that all of the pre-TMI2 Operator training was inadequate or bad, history shows that is a mis-characterization. Just look at several extremely messy stinky pre-TMI2 events. The Browns Ferry fire or the Rancho Seco loss of NNI to name two. Virtually no training and no procedures for those events. How did that success happen… totally “skill of the craft” as a result of those Operator’s total training package.
      The problem with the TMI2 conclusions is the Institutional Arrogance (at the time) of the whole industry did not allow it to accept it was not the fault of the last guys to touch the technology. They did what they were trained to do, within the limits of their ability to understand an event the PWR Industry did not even understand, and further it ignored the precursor warnings. So how did I make it? I did what plant designers and trainers fear, I abandoned my training and procedures and relied on my whole training and experience level to think it through. Which is exactly the responsibility I accept with an SRO license, and also what I was paid to do. So yes, my nose gets bent when I am accused in writing in an official NRC report of suffering from Cognitive Dissonance and Operator Error. No, the whole training package was not bad… the understanding of a specific event was wrong. And it is way past the time for the TMI2 Operators to be exonerated in the view of public and official opinion. Mike Derivan.

      • Public Pit Bull December 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm

        Yes I remember mjd. We were around when the ships were made of wood and the men were made of steel! We flew better by the seat of pants than these new schoolers can walk wrapped in all their suffocating paperwork. You are an old schooler who had the big picture. I confess that this old schooler may have followed that old myopic training just like the TMI2 folks did 35 years ago. So it goes without saying, in my view, the TMI2 opeators were never at fault and do not need to be exonerated in any way. The buck remains with the NRC and B&W. That is why I worry about the future. We still have these massive teflon institutions that never accept responsibility for anything.

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