The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2013

March 7, 2014
Dave Lochbaum
Former contributor

On March 11, 2011, I was on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to brief Congressional staffers on the inaugural issue in a planned series of reports on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and nuclear power plant safety. We had scheduled this event several weeks in advance, but an unplanned event in Japan occurred earlier that day kept many staffers in front of TV sets and internet monitors. That event—Fukushima—has not altered the direction or final destination of UCS’s nuclear power safety efforts. But it showed the need to move along this pathway a little faster.

The NRC is charged with establishing and enforcing safety regulations at U.S. nuclear power plants to protect the public from harm. UCS has evaluated nuclear power safety issues for more than 40 years. We have repeatedly found the NRC to be capable of enforcing its safety regulations—yet we have also repeatedly found its enforcement not to always be timely, consistent, or effective.

In other words, the NRC often emulates Dr. Jekyll with fair and effective regulatory oversight, but all too often allows its Mr. Hyde persona to undermine safety.

Wikipedia - Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster

This year we are issuing the fourth annual report on the NRC and nuclear power plant safety. As with prior reports, this year’s report contains a chapter summarizing the near-misses that the NRC reported on in 2013, a chapter on positive outcomes achieved by the NRC last year, and a chapter summarizing negative outcomes by the NRC last year.

The positive outcomes from the series of reports, coupled with improving safety trends overall the past three decades, support our view that the NRC is capable of being an effective regulator. The negative outcomes and the near-miss rate of about one per month over the past four years, support our view that the NRC’s Hyde character is not as well hidden as safety warrants.

We urge the agency, with Congressional inducement as necessary, to undertake the reforms necessary for the NRC to be more Jekyll and less Hyde.

Image source.