NRC’s Materials and Waste Management Programs Coming Back Under One Roof

Chris Miller
Merge Coordinator and Director of Intergovernmental Liaison and Rulemaking

 

When Congress created the NRC in 1974, it established three specific offices within the agency. One of them was the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, or “NMSS” in NRC shorthand. This office was charged with regulating nuclear materials and the facilities associated with processing, transporting and handling them.

fuelcyclediagramThis charge was, and is, broad. The NRC’s materials and waste management programs cover facilities that use radioisotopes to diagnose and treat illnesses; devices such as radiography cameras and nuclear gauges; and decommissioning and environmental remediation. It also includes nuclear waste disposal and all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium recovery to enrichment to fuel manufacture to spent fuel storage and transportation.

And there’s more. The program also does environmental reviews and oversees 37 Agreement States, which have assumed regulatory authority over nuclear materials, and maintains relationships with states, local governments, federal agencies and Native American Tribal organizations.

As with all organizations, the NRC’s workload has ebbed and flowed in response to a multitude of factors. Over the years, NMSS went through several structural changes to address its workload changes. In 2006, NMSS was gearing up for an increase in licensing activity related to the processing, storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. At the same time, the Agreement State program was growing, requiring additional coordination with the states—a function then housed in a separate Office of State and Tribal Programs.

To meet these changes and ensure effectiveness, the NRC restructured NMSS. Some of its programs were moved, including the state and tribal programs, into the new Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs (FSME). NMSS retained fuel cycle facilities, high-level waste disposal, spent fuel storage, and radioactive material transportation. FSME was responsible for regulating industrial, commercial, and medical uses of radioactive materials and uranium recovery activities. It also handled the decommissioning of previously operating nuclear facilities and power plants.

The NRC’s materials and waste management workload has now shifted again. At the same time, the agency is exploring ways to reduce overhead costs and improve the ratio of staff to management.

So, NRC staff launched a working group last fall to review the organizational structure of the NRC’s materials and waste management programs. With the focus shifting to long-term waste storage and disposal strategies, and an increasing number of nuclear plants moving to decommissioning, the group recommended merging FSME’s programs back into NMSS.

NRC’s Commissioners approved that proposal last week, and the merger of the two offices will be effective October 5. We think this new structure will better enable us to meet future challenges. It will improve internal coordination, balance our workload and provide greater flexibility to respond to a dynamic environment.

Current work, functions and responsibilities at the staff level will be largely unchanged. The management structure will realign into fewer divisions, with fewer managers.

In their direction to the staff, the Commissioners asked for careful monitoring of the changes and a full review after one year. We fully expect these changes to improve our communications both inside and outside of the agency, and provide for greater efficiency and flexibility going forward.

Spring Is Annual Assessment Time at the NRC

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer
 

cherrytreeSpring is here at last, and with it the season of NRC’s annual assessments of nuclear power plant performance during the previous calendar year. The Office of Public Affairs is issuing press releases faster than trees drop pollen announcing public meetings in the vicinity of each plant to update residents on how their local plants performed.

These meetings are routine, in that we hold them every year. Yet they are important, because they represent a report card of sorts on plant safety and because they give the agency a chance to reach out to its most important stakeholders — the people who live near the plants and have the highest stake in their safe operation.

The annual assessment letters were issued to the plants earlier this month. And the grades were mostly good. As of the end of December, 89 of 100 operating commercial nuclear reactors were in the two highest performance categories. Of those, 80 were in the highest level, with nine others requiring some additional oversight to correct issues of low safety significance. Another nine were in the third category, requiring even more oversight to correct what we call “degraded” performance.

More good news though – between December 31 and the time the assessments were issued, four of these 18 reactors in the lower second and third column had resolved their issues and moved back into the top category.

One reactor, Browns Ferry 1 in Alabama, is in the fourth performance category. It requires increased oversight because of a safety finding of high significance – including additional inspections to confirm the plant’s performance issues are being addressed.

Finally, Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska is currently under a special NRC oversight program distinct from the normal performance levels because of an extended shutdown with significant performance issues. The plant remains under special oversight even though the NRC approved its restart last December.

You can find the report card for your local plant on the NRC website’s Reactor Oversight Process page. Just click on the plant’s name in the left-hand column, then look for the 4Q/2013 assessment report on the plant’s individual page. Here you will also find each plant’s current placement in the NRC action matrix, along with performance indicators and inspection findings. Press releases about when your local plant’s assessment meeting will be held can be found here.