Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Challenges Facing NRC in Effectively Carrying Out Its Mission Page: 2 of 23
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Highlights of GAO-05-754T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on Clean Air,
Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety,
Committee on Environment and Public
Works, U.S. Senate
Why GAO Did This Study
The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (NRC) has the
regulatory responsibility to, among
other things, ensure that the
nation's 103 commercial nuclear
power plants are operated in a safe
and secure manner. While the
nuclear power industry's overall
safety record has been good, safety
issues periodically arise that
threaten the credibility of NRC's
regulation and oversight of the
Recent events make the
importance of NRC's regulatory
and oversight responsibilities
readily apparent. The terrorist
attacks on September 11, 2001,
focused attention on the security of
facilities such as commercial
nuclear power plants, while safety
concerns were heightened by
shutdown of the Davis-Besse
nuclear power plant in Ohio in
2002, and the discovery of missing
or unaccounted for spent nuclear
fuel at three nuclear power plants.
GAO has issued a total of 15 recent
reports and testimonies on a wide
range of NRC activities. This
testimony (1) summarizes GAO's
findings and associated
recommendations for improving
NRC mission-related activities and
(2) presents several cross-cutting
challenges NRC faces in being an
effective and credible regulator of
the nuclear power industry.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Jim Wells at
(202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
Challenges Facing NRC in Effectively
Carrying Out Its Mission
What GAO Found
GAO has documented many positive steps taken by NRC to advance the
security and safety of the nation's nuclear power plants. It has also
identified various actions that NRC needs to take to better carry out its
mission. First, with respect to its security mission, GAO found that NRC
needs to improve security measures for sealed sources of radioactive
materials -- radioactive material encapsulated in stainless steel or other
metal used in medicine, industry, and research-which could be used to make
a "dirty bomb." GAO also found that, although NRC was taking numerous
actions to require nuclear power plants to enhance security, NRC needed to
strengthen its oversight of security at the plants. Second, with respect to its
public health and safety, and environmental missions, GAO found that NRC
needs to conduct more effective analyses of plant owners' funding for
decommissioning to ensure that the significant volume of radioactive waste
remaining after the permanent closure of a plant are properly disposed.
Further, NRC needs to more aggressively and comprehensively resolve
issues that led to the shutdown of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant by
improving its oversight of plant safety conditions. Finally, NRC needs to do
more to ensure that power plants are effectively controlling spent nuclear
fuel, including developing and implementing appropriate inspection
GAO has identified several cross-cutting challenges affecting NRC's ability to
effectively and credibly regulate the nuclear power industry. Recently, NRC
has taken two overarching approaches to its regulatory and oversight
responsibilities. These approaches are to (1) develop and implement a risk-
informed regulatory strategy that targets the most important safety-related
activities and (2) strike a balance between verifying plants' compliance with
requirements through inspections and affording licensees the opportunity to
demonstrate that they are operating their plants safety. NRC must overcome
significant obstacles to fully implement its risk-informed regulatory strategy
across agency operations, especially with regards to developing the ability to
identify emerging technical issues and adjust regulatory requirements before
safety problems develop. NRC also faces inherent challenges in achieving
the appropriate balance between more direct oversight and industry self-
compliance. Incidents such as the 2002 shutdown of the Davis-Besse plant
and the unaccounted for spent nuclear fuel at several plants raise questions
about whether NRC has the risk information that it needs and whether it is
appropriately balancing agency involvement and licensee self-monitoring.
Finally, GAO believes that NRC will face challenges managing its resources
while meeting increasing regulatory and oversight demands. NRC's
resources have already been stretched by the extensive effort to enhance
security at plants in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Pressure on NRC's resources will continue as the nation's fleet of plants age
and the industry's interest in expansion grows, both in licensing and
constructing new plants, and re-licensing and increasing the power output of
United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Challenges Facing NRC in Effectively Carrying Out Its Mission, text, May 26, 2005; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc292492/m1/2/: accessed December 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.