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Moments in NRC History – 25 Years of the NRC’s Principles of Good Regulation

Tom Wellock

While the NRC always considered itself a principled regulator, it was not until Jan. 17, 1991, that the agency developed written principles that encouraged regulatory excellence and addressed inadequate performance.

Those principles – five traits of what a good regulator should be – were authored by then-NRC Commissioner Kenneth Rogers. Today, they form the basis of regulatory regimes throughout the world.

To celebrate the anniversary of the NRC’s principles, we’ve produced a video focusing on the historical evolution and application of the principles. Next monthpogr_tom, we’ll post another video looking at how NRC staff view the principles today.

It’s important to consider the well from which the principles sprang some 25 years ago.

In the 1960s, critics attacked federal agencies responsible for environmental and safety regulations for being too secretive and too friendly to the industries they regulated. The NRC’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, was stung by accusations that it promoted nuclear power rather than protected public safety.

The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 split the AEC, and consolidated the licensing and related regulatory functions into the newly created NRC, an independent regulator.

But the NRC, too, soon came under fire for its vague, complex and inefficient regulation. The NRC responded by establishing more flexible regulations and clearly defined safety goals.

By 1989, when Rogers first proposed the principles, the NRC was seeking to balance its independence with demands that it be an open, efficient, clear and reliable regulator. Rogers argued that the staff should have consistent guideposts in changing times to remind them of the proven elements of good regulation. Two years later, the Commission agreed, and the principles-of-good-regulation-announcement-january-17-1991 became part of the agency culture.

Many years later, in 2011, President Obama signed an executive order calling for principles of regulation for all federal agencies.

principles-of-good-reg-web-screen_1The Principles:

  • Independence (Independent): Nothing but the highest possible standards of ethical performance and professionalism should influence regulation.
  • Openness (Open): Nuclear regulation is the public’s business, and it must be transacted publicly and candidly.
  • Efficiency (Efficient): The American taxpayer, the rate-paying consumer, and licensees are all entitled to the best possible management and administration of regulatory activities.
  • Clarity (Clear): Regulations should be coherent, logical, and practical.
  • Reliability (Reliable): Regulations should be based on the best available knowledge from research and operational experience. Regulatory actions should always . . . lend stability to the nuclear operational and planning processes.

Seemingly timeless, each principle was really a specific lesson drawn from regulatory experience.

Over the years, the principles spurred continuous improvement at the NRC – among other actions, they helped the agency formulate its budgets and prioritize safety improvements in the aftermath of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

Stakeholders also use the principles to hold the agency accountable. They have been valuable reference points for agency critics when they believe the NRC has not measured up to its own standards of excellence.

Even after 25 years, with the changes within and external to the NRC, these Principles of Good Regulation remain the agency’s calling card abroad and touchstones of excellence at home.

9 responses to “Moments in NRC History – 25 Years of the NRC’s Principles of Good Regulation

  1. David Andersen January 30, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Come on NRC, speak up, refute these ridiculous accusations. No response indicates tacit agreement that you are doing a poor job.

    • Half-TruthSlayer January 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Dave, let me take a shot at this one. First off, only my great questions or accusations are worthy of a response. Not all questions or accusations deserve answers & not all questions/accusations are deserved.

      Moderator Note: Some verbiage removed to adhere to blog comment guidelines.

  2. Half-TruthSlayer January 27, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Principles of Good Regulation
    Thanks NRC for reminding us of these historic principles. Perhaps after 25 years some changes may be in order.
    First off, I think you are missing the most important principle, placing public safety first & foremost. I know that this is also your mission statement. But it should be a guiding principle, in my opinion. It would help address this comment…
    “I’ve opined that when the nuclear industry and the NRC so often claim they put “safety first,” they are referring to “financial safety.” (Dave Lochbaum)
    I think the NRC is missing a couple of other principles…
    Eternal/Constant Vigilance-Rickover’s classic statement should be included as a guiding principle. When remarking on the potential of nuclear accidents he said, “There are a lot of things that can go wrong & it requires eternal vigilance.”
    Compliance-the NRC will fully enforce all regulations.
    Honesty & Integrity-this should include valuing differing opinions. That there is no place in the agency for retaliation against whistleblowers.
    Now a few comments on the existing principles…
    • Independence (Independent): Nothing but the highest possible standards of ethical performance and professionalism should influence regulation.
    Comment: The words describing independence have nothing to do with it whatsoever. Perhaps a separate principle on “Professionalism” is needed. Please retain an independence principle and emphasize that the NRC will in no way promote, aid, or favor the viability of the nuclear industry or let it cloud their role as a regulator.
    • Efficiency (Efficient): The American taxpayer, the rate-paying consumer, and licensees are all entitled to the best possible management and administration of regulatory activities.
    Comment: This one should be last on the list.
    • Clarity (Clear): Regulations should be coherent, logical, and practical.
    • Reliability (Reliable): Regulations should be based on the best available knowledge from research and operational experience. Regulatory actions should always . . . lend stability to the nuclear operational and planning processes.
    Comment: Both of these speak to regulations. As I have said before ALL REGULATIONS MUST BE FULLY ENFORCED. Both clarity & reliability in regulations are helpful but they also can be easily used as an excuse for noncompliance. Clarity & reliability should be nice to have elements under Enforcement/Compliance.
    I appreciate the opportunity to comment.

    • Moderator January 30, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks for your suggestions for revising the Principles. In responding to your comments, it is useful to reference the original 1991 announcement of the Principles sent by Chairman Kenneth Carr to all employees (now a link in the blog post) and the NRC’s statement of “Organizational Values.” Collectively these documents show that the NRC agrees that many of the values you recommend are essential to its safety mission.

      You suggested that “safety” be one of the Principles. The Principles were included in the summary section of the NRC 1991-1995 Five Year Plan along with the agency mission statement. As you noted, the NRC’s responsibility “to ensure adequate protection for the public health and safety” was spelled out in the mission statement. The Principles were added after the mission statement and described as supporting elements of the NRC’s ultimate goal of safety. The Principles were to identify “the conditions necessary to ensure safety.”

      You also recommended as a principle Admiral Hyman Rickover’s commitment to “vigilance,” which has inspired many inside and outside the U.S. Navy. At the NRC, a similar commitment is expressed in the agency’s stated Organizational Values of “excellence,” “service,” and “commitment.” You will also see that the final summary sentence of Carr’s announcement read, “The effective regulation of users of nuclear materials requires constant vigilance and faithful adherence to these basic principles.”

      The NRC includes your suggestion of an “integrity” principle as one of its Organizational Values.

      Some of your comments are covered in the longer descriptions of each Principle in Carr’s announcement. For example, your call for the full enforcement of NRC regulations was expressed in the last sentence of the “reliability” principle. It reads: “Regulatory actions should always be fully consistent with written regulations and should be promptly, fairly, and decisively administered so as to lend stability to the nuclear operational and planning process.”

      So in establishing its Principles and Organizational Values, the NRC has tried to express the most important elements of its mission to protect public health and safety.

      Thanks again for your input.

      Tom Wellock

      • Half-TruthSlayer January 30, 2017 at 3:40 pm

        Thanks for the prompt & detailed response NRC. Considering that the NRC has a whole host of professionals from a wide spectrum of technical backgrounds, including the armed forces & the nuclear industry, I am not surprised that my small listing really offered nothing new or unique. The safety & regulatory bases seem to be very well covered & for that I am very grateful. You are to be commended.
        You did mention that your values, principles, mission statement, & others are contained in several different documents & are available online.
        Are any of these documents posted in you regulatory offices across this country &/or in the offices of the licensees you regulate?
        Although my experience in the nuclear industry is ancient, I do recall that the NRC requires the posting of a lot of regulatory safety information in your offices & at your various licensee locations.
        As presently constituted, posting all or even a summary of these individual documents would be costly, laborious, & time-consuming.
        But would you consider creating & posting a regulatory Top 10 List?
        Such posted lists I believe would not only put them continually before your employees & perhaps licensee employees, but also before your visitors & the public at large.
        Added benefits might be…
        • Strengthening the resolve of individuals to act responsibly & in accordance with the high standards you espouse.
        • Of course it would also I believe act as a deterrent to unethical behavior.

      • NeedMoreNukes January 30, 2017 at 8:24 pm

        Tom, I know your focus here is on regulatory values & principles but as an old former licensed senior reactor operator I wish to pass along some “core” values that served me well in the industry over the years…

        Reactor Core Golden Rule

        Love the reactor core with all your heart, mind and strength, and love your reactor core support systems as you love the reactor core itself.

        Reactor Core Values

        1. Promote by every word and action a conservative approach to reactor safety.
        2. Always keep the reactor core covered and cooled.
        3. Always respect the reactor core and reactor technology.
        4. Balance the needs of production with the needs of safety but if there is any doubt see Value #1.
        5. Pay attention to detail. (It is said the devil is in the details. Salvation is in the details as well.)
        6. Question everything…Why? Why? Why?
        7. Practice “DUCS”-Distracted, Uncomfortable, Confused, STOP!
        8. Promote an open and honest safety culture where reasoned dissent is encouraged and retaliation for that dissent in any way is prohibited.

      • Garry Morgan February 2, 2017 at 3:13 pm

        Have NRC integrity issues, as reflected in the below ProPublica story, been corrected, if so, how??

        Nuclear Inspector and Investigator within NRC’s OIG becomes whistleblower. Quote from 2011 ProPublica story – “[Mr.] Mulley and one other former OIG employee have come forth with allegations that the inspector general’s office buried the critical Byron report and dropped an investigation into whether the NRC is relying on outdated methods to predict damage from an aircraft crashing into a plant.” Defective overhead protections on GE Mark 3 Reactors are a serious issue existing today. Human Integrity failures reflect on the principles of Human Reliability within the NRC as a professional regulatory agency. https://www.propublica.org/article/whistleblowers-say-nuclear-regulatory-commission-watchdog-is-losing-its-bar

  3. NoNukes January 26, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    The NRC is still connected to the work of the AEC, nuclear pollution. The lies of the AEC have been exposed (maybe partially). I want nothing to do with you. See this for some of the AEC’s lying history:

  4. badger777 January 26, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Coming from an agency in which 7 NRC scientists have to protest as private citizens, because they feel that “going through the NRC channels” is useless….well this article seems like “fake news”

    I am sure there are good people at NRC, but the lack of effective regulation of an aging industry is pretty clearcut to those that are watching. We are watching, expect us to watch.

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