The following story originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs a clear safety imperative for drafting options for a new regulatory framework, as recommended by the agency’s post-Fukushima task force, industry said this week. The schedule for this work also is a concern for the industry.
Absent a safety imperative for undertaking the project, and in light of the extensive resources already devoted to post-Fukushima actions, the commission’s requirement that the staff provide options by next February is “unnecessarily aggressive,” NEI said.
“Finite NRC and industry resources must be focused on the NRC Tier 1 Fukushima recommendations that provide approximately 90 percent of the safety benefit of all the NRC recommendations,” said Adrian Heymer, NEI’s executive director of strategic programs, in a July 16 letter to the NRC.
After the 2011 accident in Japan, the NRC established a near-term task force (NTTF) to consider enhancing the agency’s safety requirements for U.S. nuclear energy facilities. The task force confirmed the commission’s conclusion that the accident raised no urgent safety issues for U.S. facilities and that existing regulations are effective. “Although complex, the current regulatory approach has served the commission and public well,” the task force said in its July 2011 report (SECY-11-0093).
However, the task force made 12 recommendations for safety enhancements. The first recommendation calls for the creation of an integrated regulatory framework, based on the defense-in-depth safety philosophy and combined with state-of-the-art probabilistic risk assessment tools.
This recommendation is consistent with the charter of an NRC Risk Management Task Force created a month before the Fukushima accident. The NRC staff’s work on a new regulatory framework is informed in part by the risk management task force’s report, issued in April.
Heymer said that while the NRC and industry move forward aggressively with the Tier 1 recommendations, the agency should establish a more deliberate and efficient process for developing a new regulatory framework. The first order of work: Define a clear problem statement, with public input, to justify the effort involved in creating a new regulatory framework, the safety benefit it will provide and the effects of regulatory enhancements already under development.
One of the regulatory issues the agency’s near-term task force raised is the NRC’s approach to beyond design basis events. “The NRC’s safety approach is incomplete without a strong program for dealing with the unexpected, including severe accidents,” the near-term task force said. While most NRC requirements focus on design-basis events, the agency has imposed regulations to deal with several beyond-design-basis events, including station blackout and protection in the event of aircraft impact.
Heymer said the NRC has a strong program for dealing with unexpected events, including severe accidents. “For over 50 years, the NRC … has demonstrated a strong program for dealing with the unexpected,” he said. He added that the 30-plus recommendations the NRC has approved in response to the Fukushima accident “show that the current regulatory framework is robust and capable of responding to the unexpected.”
Creating a new or amended regulatory framework must build on lessons from past activities, Heymer said. He also urged the NRC to consider the cumulative impact of the proposed regulatory reform effort and other regulatory activities.