U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

NRC Inspectors: Free to Inspect

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

We often talk about having NRC Resident Inspectors at each commercial nuclear plant acting as the eyes and ears of the agency on site. It’s important to understand how they go about their business.

Paul Cataldo

Paul Cataldo

On a daily basis, resident inspectors are attending meetings, walking down equipment, monitoring major work activities, reviewing paperwork, and talking to control room operators and plant workers. When an event occurs at a plant, the resident inspectors are in the control room, watching how operators and the plant respond. They provide first-hand knowledge of what’s going on at a plant to regional management on an on-going basis. Inspectors often work business hours, but they’re required to work evenings, weekends and overnight hours, too.

NRC inspectors, including region-based specialists, have “unfettered access,” so they can go anywhere and watch any activity they choose. NRC regulations specify that NRC inspectors must have immediate unfettered access, although inspectors must comply with applicable access control measures for security, radiological protection and personal safety. That means if an inspector wants to enter a radiologically controlled area, he or she is allowed to, but first must follow the radiation protection requirements for the area.

“My job is to ensure the company is in compliance with our regulations and their operating license, which provides reasonable assurance that the plant is safe. One approach I use is the “trust but verify” method,” says Paul Cataldo, the NRC Senior Resident Inspector at Seabook Station in New Hampshire. “In essence, having access to any document, equipment or personnel on-site, without asking permission or the licensee having prior knowledge of a request, gives us confidence regarding the integrity of the information we use during our inspections.”

Plant workers are also prohibited from announcing that an NRC inspector is at the plant or in a particular area. It’s a violation of NRC requirements and over the years we have cited plants when workers tipped off their co-workers that inspectors were on-site.

We rely on our ability to perform announced and unannounced inspections to independently evaluate plant performance. Without unfettered access, our ability to carry out our mission could be impacted.

Principles of Good Regulation: Clarity

Regulations should be coherent, logical, and practical. There should be a clear nexus between regulations and agency goals and objectives whether explicitly or implicitly stated. Agency positions should be readily understood and easily applied.

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer

graphic-pogr_clarityThe NRC has a double challenge when it comes to clarity. We are a regulatory agency that derives its authority from a series of laws passed by Congress and we regulate a highly technical industry with many of our experts holding advanced technical degrees.

For those reasons, it can sometimes be challenging to explain what we do and why we do it.

Over the years, the agency has employed a variety of different ways to communicate with clarity. This blog and all our social media platforms are one avenue. Producing less technical executive summaries for otherwise quite complex documents is another way.

We often work with technical experts to help prepare them for public meetings and to ensure their presentations are “user friendly” for the audience expected to attend. The agency’s training center offers many courses to help technical experts present their complex work clearly in a way that is more accessible for both technical and non-technical audiences.

The agency’s website also provides a wealth of information to meet the needs of both technical audiences and the general public. Even our student corner section helps clarify the agency’s mission and activities.

The NRC’s work may involve an abundance of acronyms and technical jargon, but we are always striving to convey what we do and why we do it in the clearest way possible.

This post is the fourth of five that will explore each of the five principles separately. For the history of the Principles of Good Regulation, read this post.

 

Principles of Good Regulation: Efficiency

Maureen Wylie
Chief Financial Officer

The American taxpayer, the rate-paying consumer, and licensees are all entitled to the best possible management and administration of regulatory activities. The highest technical and managerial competence is required, and must be a constant agency goal. NRC must establish means to evaluate and continually upgrade its regulatory capabilities. Regulatory activities should be consistent with the degree of risk reduction they achieve. Where several effective alternatives are available, the option which minimizes the use of resources should be adopted. Regulatory decisions should be made without undue delay.

graphic-pogr_efficiencyThe principles of good regulation are critically important to the day-to-day operations of the agency. They’re our guide posts. They’re touchstones to help us be sure that we’re properly executing our mission.

As the chief financial officer, I am partial to the efficiency principle. It is one of the reasons that I come to work every day. We are not only federal employees but also taxpayers and citizens, so we should be sure that we’re taking care of the nation’s resources appropriately. In addition to the payments we receive from our licensees, the NRC also receives an appropriation from the Congress each year. It’s “your money” and “our money” at the same time. Efficiency as we execute the agency’s work supports both the public good and the expectations we have as individuals for the best value we can offer.

As part of our focus on efficiency, the NRC has an initiative underway to improve our ability to plan and execute our mission. Known as Project Aim, this is an effort to find ways to better adapt to a dynamic environment and changes in workload. With direction from our Commissioners, the staff is working to “right-size” the agency to ensure we have the skills we need to accomplish our mission; to use agency resources more wisely; to improve the timeliness of our decision-making and respond quickly to changing conditions; and to promote unity of purpose through clearer agency priorities.

As Steering Committee co-chair, I have seen a lot of creativity from the staff as we work though the initial 19 tasks approved by the Commission, especially as we work to make processes more efficient and to shed unnecessary work. By the time we complete this effort, the NRC will have saved a total of nearly $50 million. That’s real money in my book.

principles-of-good-reg-web-screen_1This work requires us to find the right balance to make sure we are meeting our safety mission while delivering results in a timely and cost-effective way. As an example, we aim to review applications in a timely manner while ensuring safety and security. Meeting this goal depends in part on receiving complete, high-quality applications. Many of our programs have implemented acceptance reviews, which give NRC staff a chance to make sure an application is complete before we begin our detailed technical reviews. If we find things we think are missing or would otherwise slow down our technical review, we ask the applicant to supplement their application. This process saves the licensee money and allows our staff to work on other activities until that application is ready.

For me one of the most important purposes of the principles is cultural. There are many different roles here at the agency. You hear people talk about being a technical or Commission office, as compared to people who provide corporate support. Or the distinction between people in the regions and those here in Rockville, Md. But, no matter your role, the principles apply to all of us. They are a unifying aspect to our culture. I can sit in a meeting with my colleagues in operating reactors or in nuclear materials and wastes and we’d still have an important shared vocabulary that is meaningful and helps us transcend our individual goals and move together toward the right solutions.

This post is the third of five that will explore each of the five principles separately. For the history of the Principles of Good Regulation, read this post.

Projected End Date for Indian Point Plant Comes into Clearer Focus

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

April 30th will mark a decade since Entergy submitted a license renewal application to the NRC for the Indian Point nuclear power plant. During the intervening years, thorough NRC staff reviews and a complex hearing on the proposal by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the quasi-judicial arm of the NRC, have moved steadily forward.

indianpointBut then came an announcement on Jan. 9 by Entergy, the plant’s owner, and New York state. Under an agreement reached between the two parties, Indian Point Unit 2 would permanently shut down by April 30, 2020, and Indian Point Unit 3 by April 30, 2021. (Indian Point Unit 1 ceased operations in 1974).

This represents an earlier retirement of the reactors than proposed in the company’s license renewal application, which sought an extension of Unit 2’s operating license to April 2033 and Unit 3’s to April 2035.

Entergy cited the low cost of natural gas and rising operating costs as primary factors in its decision. The company said it would instead pursue a license renewal for Unit 2 to 2024 and for Unit 3 to 2025 to allow operation until then in the event the plant’s power output is still needed.

Company officials offered assurances that there would be continued adherence to safety requirements for the remainder of the plant’s operational life. NRC inspectors will be on hand to independently verify that all safety commitments are being met.

The NRC has three full-time Resident Inspectors assigned to Indian Point. We also send specialist inspectors to the facility to assess such areas as security, radiation safety and reactor operator training.

Agency staff will also have to complete their license renewal reviews and the hearing process will have to be brought to a conclusion. With respect to the latter, a motion to withdraw the remaining contentions in the hearing process is expected today.

It will be essential for Indian Point employees to maintain a strong focus on safety no matter the plant’s eventual end date. It will be incumbent upon the NRC to ensure that is occurring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Principles of Good Regulation: Openness

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II

Nuclear regulation is the public’s business, and it must be transacted publicly and candidly. The public must be informed about and have the opportunity to participate in the regulatory processes as required by law. Open channels of communication must be maintained with Congress, other government agencies, licensees, and the public, as well as with the international nuclear community.

graphic-pogr_opennessMost of us in the NRC’s Office of Public Affairs were trained and have worked as either print or broadcast journalists. That background and our experiences in trying to get information from many different organizations make us all strong advocates for an open flow of information and access for all. The NRC Principle of Openness is a real-world standard that guides everything we do.

Some of the NRC’s activities generate quite a bit of public interest while others may garner little attention. No matter what the issue may be, our goal is always to provide the media and the public with as much information as possible, allowing them to learn about what we do or take an active role in our regulatory process.

We provide letters, reports and other documents on many of the agency’s activities, including detailed information before we issue a license, when we update our regulatory requirements and even when we have technical questions for our applicants or licensees. We believe all people and groups interested in our policies and actions must have access to clear and understandable information.

We hold public meetings near the facilities we regulate, at NRC headquarters and in the four regional offices. Documents and correspondence related to license applications and inspection findings, with the exception of security-related, proprietary, and other sensitive information, are made available through the agency’s web site.

principles-of-good-reg-web-screen_1The agency also typically issues news releases when it receives license applications and to announce public meetings, opportunities for hearings, and other public involvement activities. We also use several different social media tools including Twitter, Facebook, this blog and others.

Copies of key documents may be sent to federal, state, local, and tribal authorities, published in the Federal Register, and made available on the NRC web site. Librarians at the NRC’s Public Document Room are available to assist in accessing or obtaining copies of the agency’s documents. We have also established a process to respond to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

It can sometimes be frustrating to try to find information from a federal agency or other large organization, but at the NRC, we want to reduce or eliminate that frustration as much as possible. We may not always succeed, but we take the Principle of Openness very seriously and work hard to achieve that goal.

This is the second of five posts exploring each of the Principles of Good Regulation. For the history of the Principles of Good Regulation, read this post.

 

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