Rep. Cliff Stearns

House Committee on Energy & Commerce

Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

A Review of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process

June 19, 2006

Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC)  gives us an opportunity to learn more about the efficiency and effectiveness of the reactor oversight process (ROP). Six years after its deployment, I am eager to see if the development of objective, risk-informed, and timely measurement criteria of the ROP has brought some improvement in safety and efficiency.

The NRC fulfills a vital role in safeguarding our health and environment. Our nation boasts the safest reactors in the world--and the nuclear industry shares our desire to keep it that way.

The ROP was developed in order to improve the performance, reduce unnecessary regulation, while improving the NRC’s management of reactor safety. The ROP focuses on three key areas: reactor safety; radiation safety; and security of the plant against sabotage and other physical threats. Combining these performance indicators with NRC inspections, we end up with a color-coded rating system. Green indicates good performance, red indicates sub-par performance, yellow indicates a reduction in safety, and red indicates a serious reduction in safety. A plant earning any rating less than green triggers further inspections and reviews. Without improvement, the NRC can resort to civil orders or even the suspension of the reactor’s operating license.

The color-coded system appears to offer improvements in compliance and safety, but we must be wary of simplifying regulation too far--we have no wish for a trite oversight program. Nor do we want to see a color-coding system as useless as the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded alert system.

Of course, while I share the concerns of our witness from the activist group Nuclear Information and Resource Service that the NRC vigilantly protect our nation, I do not equate the number of enforcement actions with the quality of oversight or the level of safety improvement.

Indeed, the NRC appears to be exercising greater flexibility in methods of safety improvement. For instance, following the discovery of severe corrosion on the reactor vessel head at the David Besse (pronounced BESS - EE) plant in 2002, the NRC evaluated the problem, and adapted its findings to expand the ROP performance indicators into new areas, and to tailor new recommendations for plant operators.

Mr. Chairman, we have devoted significant time and effort in this Committee to expanding America’s supply of nuclear power. I hope our witnesses this afternoon will help us see how far we have some on the safety of our 103 nuclear reactors, and what factors we still must address as we seek to add many more.

See the original: Serial No. 109-104

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