Principles of Good Regulation: Independence

Brett Klukan
Regional Counsel
Region I

graphic-pogr_independenceMy aim in this post is to explore with you the meaning and implications of the first of the NRC’s Principles of Good Regulation: “independence.” At a glance, this might seem a simple task. “Independence” is one of those concepts like “justice” or “liberty” — we know what it is, we know what it looks and feels like; however, we have trouble, if asked, to precisely define it.

Of the multiple definitions offered by Merriam-Webster, two seem the most relevant: (1) “not subject to control by others” and (2) “not requiring or relying on something else.”

If that was all that was meant by “independence,” then its inclusion amongst the NRC’s other principles could be seen as a re-articulation–for emphasis maybe–of a prior-standing principle already applicable to all employees of the Executive Branch. Principle 8 of the General Principles of Ethical Behavior states, “Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.”

Undoubtedly, when the NRC authors included independence (also dubbed independent in some versions of the principles) as one of the NRC’s principles they intended something more than not being subject to the control of others. As stated by Dr. Gail H Marcus, who was Commissioner Kenneth Rogers’ technical assistant tasked with developing the NRC Principles, “We wanted to dispel the idea that an independent person should work in a vacuum. Rather, an independent person should interact with all factions, should collect all facts, and should understand all viewpoints in order to form an opinion that would stand up to critique and review.”

It is one thing to say what independence is. It is wholly another to say how one should go about being independent in particular circumstances. This presents an essential paradox. We must not separate ourselves, but rather to engage with all those who have a stake in the work of the agency.

principles-of-good-reg-web-screen_1To meet its charge of independence, the NRC must ever be proactively attuned to the views of licensees, state and local governments, and the interested public, all the while maintaining some necessary degree of separation to preserve our objectivity.

“Independence,” in the context of the NRC’s principles, thus does not mean simply “self-reliant isolation,” but rather something more akin to “impartial engagement.” And therein lies the rub. So long as the NRC is faced with a plurality of conflicting public views and interests–an ever-present fact of life at the NRC–impartial engagement is a complicated balancing act, a never-ending tightrope walk.

NRC employees negotiate with this paradox every day. Consider the following example:

Each year, in the late spring and early summer, the NRC conducts public annual assessment meetings for each of the reactor licensees. Some of these meetings are heavily attended–so much so that often there are far more members of the public who wish to speak than the allotted meeting time would permit. As a facilitator for those meetings, I must devise the public speaking order, knowing that this decision will determine who will get to speak at the meeting and who will likely not. As illustrated by the dialogue that follows, I have struggled with how to achieve an impartial balance that fully and fairly provides an opportunity for the conflicting views at those meetings to be voiced.

One option is to choose the speaking order by lottery. Picking names out of a box would be an impartial solution. But is that fair to those who arrived early to secure themselves a place in the speaking order?

Another option is to have one sign-up list at the registration table, and we’ll call people in chronological order. First come, first served. But couldn’t that lead to some people queuing up hours in advance? Will the meeting space allow that? And what if those arriving early are members of one group? Don’t we have a responsibility to make sure that we hear from a variety of viewpoints?

Perhaps we should have two sign-up lists: one for those for and one for those against? How about adding a “neutral” sign-up list? That may solve some issues, but could present more. What happens if everyone just signs up on the neutral list, which would usually be the shortest?

Or what will we say to someone who didn’t get to speak because he or she signed up on the ‘pro’ or ‘con’ list, while someone who arrived later did get to speak because that person signed up on the neutral list?

We weigh these options, and sometimes others. Any time we seek input into our decisions, we face this struggle to maintain impartial and balanced engagement with a plurality of stakeholders with conflicting views. It’s a balance we have to strike, and inevitably, we won’t please everyone. However, it is a task that NRC employees must fully embrace if the agency is to live true to the vision of independence ensconced in its principles.

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

UPDATE: Protecting Commercial Nuclear Facilities from Cyber Attack

James Andersen
Director, Cyber Security Directorate

The NRC has been very forward-thinking in developing cyber security requirements for nuclear power plants. The cyber threat is always evolving, and so is our approach. We first imposed cyber security requirements in Orders issued after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Drawing on our experience with those steps, we formalized regulations in 2009.

Our “cyber security roadmap” spells out how nuclear plant licensees were implementing our 2009 cyber regulations, as well as our approach to assessing cyber needs of other licensees.

cybersecNuclear plants are meeting these requirements in two phases. During Phase 1, they implemented controls to protect their most significant digital assets from the most prevalent cyber attack vectors. This phase was completed in December 2012, and our inspections of Phase 1 actions were completed in 2015.

During Phase 2, which will be completed by the end of this year, licensees will complete full implementation of their cyber security programs. They will add additional technical cyber controls, cyber security awareness training for employees, incident response testing and drills, configuration management controls, and supply chain protection

Like other NRC programs, cyber security involves “defense in depth.” Crucial safety- or security-related systems (both digital and analog) are isolated from the Internet, giving them strong protection. Such “air gaps” are important, but not sufficient. Licensees must also address wireless threats, portable media such as discs or thumb drives, and other avenues of attack. Physical security and access controls, including guarding against an insider threat to the plant, also add to cyber security, as do cyber intrusion detection and response capability.

The NRC published a new regulation in late 2015 requiring nuclear plant licensees to notify the agency quickly of certain cyber attacks.

With these efforts already accomplished or underway, you can see the NRC takes cyber security seriously, and we’re doing our best to stay flexible and ahead of the ever-changing threat. You can find more information about the NRC’s cyber security program on our website.

This post first ran in October 2015

Re-Evaluating Category 3 Source Protection and Accountability

Duncan White
Senior Health Physicist

Back in July, we talked about the Government Accountability Office’s investigation in which the GAO created a fake company that was successful in one out of three tries at getting a license for radioactive material. Once they received the license and placed an order, GAO then altered the license to increase the quantity of material authorized and placed a second order.  The higher quantity would have required additional protection measures beyond those required for the original quantity. The GAO never actually acquired any radioactive material and the public was never at risk.

On the day the GAO issued their report on the investigation, Commissioner Jeff Baran sent a memo to the other Commissioners proposing that NRC staff re-evaluate the methods used to account for Category 3 sources. (See “Categories of Radioactive Materials” at right). The other categoriesofradmat_editedCommissioners agreed and the Commission directed the staff to evaluate whether we should revise NRC regulations or processes governing protection and accountability for Category 3 sources.

The NRC and its partners in the Agreement States are working together to address these specific actions. That work will include, among other things:

  1. Evaluating the pros and cons of different methods for verifying the validity of a license before a Category 3 source is transferred;
  2. Evaluating the pros and cons of including Category 3 sources in the National Source Tracking System;
  3. Assessing any additional options to address the source accountability recommendations made by the GAO;
  4. Identifying changes in the threat environment since 2009 and considering whether they support expanding the NSTS to include Category 3 sources;
  5. Assessing the risks posed when a licensee possesses enough Category 3 sources to require the higher level protections for Category 2 quantities; and
  6. Getting input from Agreement State partners, non-Agreement States, licensees, public interest groups, industry groups, and the reactor community.

We will also consider recommendations made by the working group that evaluated the vulnerabilities identified by the GAO investigation. Additionally, we will consider our recently completed assessment of the security requirements in 10 CFR Part 37, “Physical Protection of Category 1 and 2 Quantities of Radioactive Material.” This review looked at the results of inspections of NRC licensees during the first two years the rule has been in effect, and events reported under the rule. The NRC sent a report on this review to Congress on December 14.

The NRC staff will develop recommendations related to Category 3 source protection and accountability and provide the recommendations to the Commission for deliberation in August 2017.

An important part of the NRC’s and Agreement States’ re-evaluation is soliciting input from our Agreement State partners, the impacted regulatory community and the public.  We have published a series of questions in the Federal Register to help assess the benefits, impacts, and costs of different alternatives. You can see these questions and send us your comments through the federal rulemaking website. We will provide opportunities to participate in the agency’s decision-making process through public meetings and webinars. More specific information about these opportunities for public involvement will be available on a new webpage. We welcome your input.

On the Road to Small Reactor Design Reviews

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

As the NRC starts looking over NuScale’s application to certify the company’s first-of-its-kind “small modular reactor” design, it’s worth looking back at how we got here. It’s also useful to look at the steps we’ll follow going forward in our technical review.

nuscaleNuScale’s application is the first to propose a nuclear power plant designed with several small reactors instead of one large one. The company has discussed this approach with us since 2008, using much the same “pre-application” process followed by makers of traditional large reactors. These talks helped both the NRC and NuScale understand where the design might need additional supporting information or alternative approaches to NRC policies. For instance, NuScale examined how its design could best meet the NRC’s requirements for staff in the control room.

The NRC also used information from NuScale in developing a design-specific review standard. This ensures the agency’s technical staff has specific guidance on the requirements NuScale must meet to get the novel small modular design approved. The standard covers topics such as instrumentation and controls, cooling the reactor core in an emergency, and the materials used for the reactor vessel and steam generator. The NRC published the draft review standard in July 2015 and after public comment, issued the final review standard in August 2016.

The application itself is a collection of electronic files that must be transferred into the NRC’s document database, ADAMS. This process ensures the agency staff can refer to a constant set of information during the review. It also allows the public to view any documents not subject to withholding for security or other reasons. The agency expects all the NuScale application documents will be transferred by mid-January.

Michael Johnson, NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations (right), and Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director of the Office of New Reactors (second from right) receive NuScale's application from NuScale Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson (second from left) and NuScale Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Tom Bergman (left).
Michael Johnson, NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations (right), and Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director of the Office of New Reactors, (second from right) receive NuScale’s application from NuScale Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson (second from left) and NuScale Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Tom Bergman (left).

Once the NRC has all the pieces of the NuScale application, the staff will first check if it contains enough high-quality information for us to do detailed technical reviews. If it doesn’t, NuScale can provide supplemental information. If it does and we find the application acceptable for a full review, we will publish a notice in the Federal Register. We expect to make our acceptance decision by mid-March.

Once we complete our full review and get feedback from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, the technical staff will decide whether NuScale’s design is safe and appropriate for U.S. use. If the answer is yes, the staff will offer the Commission a draft rule to add NuScale to the list of approved designs. The public can comment on draft rules to certify new designs.

We expect the design certification review to last about three years, assuming NuScale completely answers any NRC questions in a timely manner. This exacting review ensures the staff can make a fully informed decision that protects public health and safety.

A certified design is considered safe and appropriate for U.S. use; the NRC has certified six reactor designs to this point. Companies interested in using certified designs must apply for separate licenses before reactors can be built and operated.

Update on Quality Assurance Issues in France

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

Today, the NRC is releasing information about large reactor components supplied to U.S. nuclear plants by AREVA’s Creusot Forge in France. This information includes the names of the plants and the reactor components involved.

This blog post discusses the information as well as the NRC’s actions related to ongoing French investigations into potential defects and problems with quality assurance documents regarding the parts’ manufacture.

We are confident at this time that there are no safety concerns for U.S. nuclear power plants raised by the investigations in France. Our confidence is based on the U.S. material qualification process, preliminary structural evaluations of reactor components under scrutiny in France, U.S. material aging-management programs, our participation in a multinational inspection of Creusot Forge, and information supplied by AREVA about the documentation anomalies. Also, the components supplied to U.S. plants have performed well and inspections during their operating life have revealed no safety issues.

Because there are no immediate safety concerns, there is no justification for the NRC to order plants to shut down and inspect components, as some groups have suggested. Should new information raise a specific safety concern, the agency will take appropriate action.

The information released today ML17009a275 was provided to the NRC on Dec. 15 at our request by AREVA, a multinational manufacturer of nuclear plant components.  We informed AREVA on Dec. 30 of our intent to make the information public (ML16364A034). Attachment A lists components with forgings from Creusot Forge supplied to 17 U.S. reactors at 13 sites, directly by AREVA or through third-party vendors. The components are mostly replacement reactor vessel heads, replacement steam generator components or pressurizers. AREVA clarified the list in letters dated Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, which are included in the information.

We posted a piece last June about the investigation by the French Nuclear Safety Agency, ASN, into AREVA’s Creusot Forge. Here is an update:

There are two separate, but related, issues to the investigation in France. The first is called “carbon segregation,” a condition that in certain circumstances could create local areas of reduced toughness in large forged components of nuclear plants. The second is a series of anomalies discovered in the quality assurance documentation of components manufactured at Creusot Forge.

Carbon segregation occurs naturally during the casting of steel ingots. Carbon molecules concentrate as newly forged ingots cool. Most of this excess carbon is cut away and discarded before the actual plant components are formed, but some processes leave small areas of elevated carbon content near the component’s surface. NRC regulations and code requirements by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers account for this condition. Higher-than-expected carbon segregation has been discovered on some reactor components in France that were manufactured using a particular process, though there are no indications it would exceed U.S. limits. We’ve asked AREVA if any components supplied to U.S. reactors were manufactured using that same process, and we expect the company’s answer soon.

While investigating the carbon segregation issue, ASN discovered anomalies in the documents describing how components were manufactured at Creusot Forge. This probe, launched last May, has since expanded to include a review of documents dating back to 1965. (AREVA acquired Creusot Forge in 2006.)

Two NRC inspectors participated in an inspection of the Creusot Forge facility in late November/early December. The inspection team included inspectors from France, the United Kingdom, Finland, China and Canada, and was conducted under the Multinational Design Evaluation Programme, which facilitates information exchanges among nations. During the inspection, AREVA reported that some files on components supplied to U.S. nuclear plants contained anomalies. The company said the anomalies presented no apparent safety concerns.

The NRC inspectors conducted a preliminary review of records for three U.S. plants and agreed that AREVA had made a reasonable assessment of no safety concerns.

The ASN, which led the inspection, is expected to issue a report on its findings in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, AREVA filed an interim report to the NRC on Dec. 7 (ML16344A120), providing more information about document anomalies affecting some U.S. plants. AREVA said it had notified its U.S. customers (including nuclear power plants and vendors) of the documentation issues and its assessment that there are no related safety concerns. The company said it expects to complete its evaluation of Creusot Forge’s documentation processes for U.S. plants by June 30, 2017.

We are not taking this issue lightly. Complete and accurate documentation provides assurance that components were forged to the proper procedures and specifications. As the investigation continues, we remain alert to any indication that the documentation irregularities at Creusot Forge might call into question the safety of these components and U.S. nuclear plants.

 

Getting Ready for Winter Looks Much Like Preparing for Hurricanes

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

coldweatherAt first glance the blizzard that pounded the upper Midwest on Christmas weekend – or the winter storm that hit New England over New Year’s — doesn’t seem to have much in common with the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast or Eastern Seaboard during the hot summer months.

But from our perspective, they do.

NRC regulations requires that U.S. nuclear power plants be ready for all kinds of weather conditions, and that extends to winter storms.

The preparations take many forms. Here are some of the key activities:

  • Plant operators keep close tabs on approaching storms via weather forecasting services. Storm watches or warnings would clearly attract attention.
  • As a storm draws closer, information gathered from the facility’s meteorological towers is assessed. These data points would include wind speed/direction and snowfall rates. Specific conditions, such as wind speeds exceeding a pre-designated threshold, can result in operators starting to shut down the reactor, or reactors, at a plant site.
  • Prior to a storm arriving in the area, plant personnel would conduct visual inspections of plant grounds. They would check that there were no loose items that could be propelled by strong winds and potentially damage equipment.
  • Workers would also ensure that fuel tanks for emergency diesel generators were filled. These generators can provide back-up power for plant safety systems should the local electrical grid go down.
  • Plans would also be developed to keep the plant appropriately staffed until the storm had passed. This might mean providing cots and food for employees unable to get home due to the weather conditions.

Amid all of these preparations, the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to each plant would follow the progress of these activities while also tracking expected conditions at the plant. They, too, could be asked to stay at the facility until the storm had passed.

The old adage that success is “90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration” is one taken seriously when wicked weather is bearing down.

 

Five Questions with Rick Hasselberg

Rick Hasselberg is a Senior Emergency Response Coordinator with the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response.

  1. How would you briefly describe your role at the NRC?

5 questions_9with boxI manage the NRC’s Reactor Safety Team. If an emergency occurs at a nuclear power plant, my team is responsible for assessing nuclear facility conditions, predicting future conditions, and recommending actions the NRC might take to help protect public health and safety. I am responsible for recruiting, training, and continuously challenging the expertise and response readiness of one of the most respected emergency response organizations in the world.  What could be better than that?

  1. What is your foremost responsibility at work?

I think about emergencies. While 99 percent of the people working at the NRC are working hard to ensure that appropriate safety measures are in place, I work under the assumption that any of those safety measures could possible fail and that it’s time to get busy.  (The more I think about the things that might happen, the less surprised I will be if they do.

  1. What is your most significant challenge in the workplace?

rickh_fixedI struggle with competing demand for the agency’s best and brightest employees.  I must ensure that NRC will able to maintain a pool of experienced, qualified response team members who can be pulled away from their regular duties to train, exercise and, if ever needed, to respond to an actual emergency event.

  1. What do you consider one of your most notable accomplishments at the NRC?

I joined the NRC in late 1979, in the months following the Three Mile Island Accident. During that period, the NRC was under considerable pressure to improve both its internal training programs and its external public information (outreach) programs. I contributed significantly to both programs, introducing multimedia production techniques (film, video, and 35mm slides) for improving internal technical training, and I created and presented a highly acclaimed, day-long Nuclear Power and Radiation seminar that NRC presented to news media representatives throughout the United States. I was credited with helping to re-establish NRC credibility with the news media.

  1. What is one quality of the NRC that more people should know?

This agency has a lot of very smart, very talented people who really care about their role in serving the nation. I’m very proud to serve with them.

Five Questions is an occasional series in which we pose the same questions to different NRC staff members.