Inspector General Report on Spent Fuel Pools Makes Recommendations To Improve Oversight

Stephen Dingbaum
Assistant Inspector General for Audits

oigAn Office of the Inspector General audit regarding the NRC’s oversight of spent fuel pools is now available here. The audit set out to determine if the NRC’s oversight of spent fuel pools — and the nuclear fuel they hold — provides adequate protection for public health and safety, and the environment.

The NRC is responsible for developing the regulatory framework, analytical tools, and data needed to ensure safe and secure storage, transportation, and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. In the U.S. today, there are 93 spent fuel pools currently storing spent fuel. Recent NRC staff studies demonstrating the safety of spent fuel pools and the safety of continued storage of spent fuel at reactor sites highlight the need to make sure the pools operate safely for longer periods than originally envisioned.

The OIG found the NRC does provide adequate oversight of spent fuel pools and the fuel they contain, but opportunities exist for improvement. Specifically, we found that regulatory uncertainty exists in the NRC’s evaluation of the analytical methods used to prevent a chain reaction in the spent fuel pools. In addition, there are gaps in NRC’s spent fuel pool inspection program as inspections of spent fuel pools greatly vary between licensee sites and are limited in scope.

As part of its mission, the NRC must inspect and assess licensee operations and facilities to ensure compliance with its regulatory requirements. The NRC should also regulate in a manner that clearly communicates requirements and ensures regulations are consistently applied and practical. The OIG believes an absence of effective spent fuel pool guidance for both licensees and NRC staff may reduce program efficiency and effectiveness.

The report makes four specific recommendations to improve NRC oversight, including developing and issuing new guidance for licensees and developing new NRC inspection procedures. NRC management stated their general agreement with the findings and recommendations.