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United States Government Accountability Office: GAO: 


Before the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Committee on 
Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT: 
Wednesday, October 3, 2007: 

Nuclear Energy:
NRC Has Made Progress in Implementing Its Reactor Oversight and 
Licensing Processes but Continues to Face Challenges: 

Statement of Mark Gaffigan: 
Acting Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-114T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on Clean 
Air and Nuclear Safety, Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is responsible for overseeing 
the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear power reactors to ensure they are 
operated safely. Since 2000, NRC has used a formal Reactor Oversight 
Process (ROP) to oversee safety. NRC is also responsible for licensing 
the construction and operation of new reactors. Electric power 
companies have announced plans to submit 20 applications in the next 18 

This testimony is based on GAO reports that reviewed (1) how NRC 
implements the ROP, (2) the results of the ROP over several years, (3) 
the status of NRC’s efforts to improve the ROP, (4) NRC’s efforts to 
prepare its workforce and manage its workload for new reactor 
licensing, and (5) NRC’s efforts to develop its regulatory framework 
and review processes for new reactor activities. In conducting this 
work, GAO analyzed programwide information and interviewed cognizant 
NRC managers and industry representatives. 

What GAO Found: 

In implementing its ROP, NRC uses various tools and takes a risk-
informed and graded approach to ensure the safety of nuclear power 
facilities. The ROP primarily relies on physical inspections of 
equipment and operations and quantitative measures or indicators of 
performance at each facility to assess the status of safety and 
determine appropriate levels of oversight. 

Since 2001, NRC has made more than 4,000 inspection findings that 
reactor unit operators had not fully complied with safety procedures. 
Almost all of these findings were for actions NRC considered important 
to correct but of low significance to safe operations. As a result of 
NRC inspections, more than 75 percent of the nation’s reactor units 
received some level of increased oversight while five units were 
subjected to NRC’s highest level of oversight for long periods because 
their performance problems were more systemic. 

In 2006, GAO reported that NRC has generally taken a proactive approach 
to improving its ROP. However, concerted efforts will be needed to 
address shortcomings, particularly in identifying and addressing early 
indications of declining reactor safety performance. For example, NRC 
is implementing several enhancements to the ROP to better assess a 
facility’s safety culture—organizational characteristics that ensure 
safety issues receive the attention their significance warrants. GAO 
made recommendations to further improve this effort, and NRC has taken 
initial steps to implement them. 

NRC has taken important steps to prepare its workforce for new 
licensing reviews, but several key activities are still underway and 
uncertainties remain about its management of the expected surge of 
applications. For example, NRC has increased funding, hired hundreds of 
new employees, and created and partly staffed a new office. However, 
NRC has not completed its development of some computer-based tools for 
enhancing the consistency and coordination of application reviews and 
has not fully developed criteria for setting priorities if the workload 
exceeds available resources. Also, while NRC’s Office of New Reactors 
established a resource management board for coordinating certain office 
review activities, it has not clearly defined the extent of the board’s 
responsibilities. NRC agreed with recommendations GAO made to further 
improve its workload management. 

NRC has revised most of its primary regulatory framework and review 
processes, including its rules, guidance, and oversight criteria to 
provide for early resolution of issues, standardization, and enhanced 
predictability. However, NRC has not yet completed some associated 
rules, guidance, and review process components, including revisions to 
its environmental guidance, its hearing process, and its process for 
requesting additional information from applicants. Without these 
components, expected efficiencies and predictability may be limited 
regarding the total time an applicant needs to obtain a license. NRC 
agreed with a recommendation GAO made to further improve its 
application review process. 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO made recommendations to NRC to improve the effectiveness of (1) the 
ROP in identifying declining safety performance at nuclear power 
facilities before significant safety problems develop and (2) NRC’s 
workforce and processes in facilitating the review of new reactor 
license applications. NRC generally agreed with the recommendations. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.GAO-08-114T]. For more information, contact Mark 
Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the adequacy of the Nuclear 
Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) to ensure 
public health and safety. Through the ROP, NRC oversees the operation 
of the nation's 104 commercial nuclear power reactors, which provide 
about 20 percent of the nation's electricity. The safety of these 
reactors, which are located at 65 facilities in 31 states, has always 
been important because an accident could result in the release of 
radioactive material with potentially serious adverse effects on public 
health and the environment. NRC is responsible for inspecting operating 
nuclear power facilities, while facility operators are responsible for 
safely operating their facilities. NRC has the authority to take 
actions, up to and including shutting down a reactor, if conditions are 
not being met and the reactor poses an undue risk to public health and 

NRC is also responsible for licensing the construction and operation of 
new reactors. Since 1989, NRC has worked to develop a regulatory 
framework and review process for licensing new reactors that allow an 
electric power company to obtain a construction permit and an operating 
license through a single combined license (COL) based on one of a 
number of standard reactor designs. The COL is NRC's response to the 
nuclear industry's concerns about the length and complexity of NRC's 
former two-step process of issuing a construction permit followed by an 
operating license. NRC has been working to complete this process 
because electric power companies have announced plans to submit 20 
applications in the next 18 months for licenses to build and operate 31 
new reactor units--nearly three decades after the last order was placed 
for a new civilian nuclear power reactor unit in the United States. 

As requested, my remarks today will focus on our September 2006 report, 
which examined how NRC implements the ROP to oversee reactor operations 
safety, the results of the ROP over the past several years, and the 
status of NRC's efforts to improve the ROP from 2001 through 
2005.[Footnote 1] In addition, on September 21, 2007, we issued a 
report to you on the steps NRC has taken to prepare its workforce and 
manage its workload for new reactor licensing and to develop its 
regulatory framework and key review processes for new reactor 
activities.[Footnote 2] 

To examine NRC's oversight of operating reactors through the ROP, we 
assessed NRC's policies and guidance documents, examined inspection 
manuals and findings reports, and reviewed the level of oversight it 
provided as a result of its findings. We analyzed NRC data on nuclear 
reactor safety for 2001 through 2005, including an assessment of their 
reliability, which we determined were sufficiently reliable for the 
purposes of our report. We also analyzed NRC's annual self-assessment 
reports and relevant inspection documents, reviewed external 
evaluations of the ROP, and interviewed several NRC managers and 
external stakeholders. Physical security, which is also covered by the 
ROP, was not included in this review. In addition, to examine NRC's 
readiness to evaluate new reactor license applications, we reviewed NRC 
documents for new reactor workforce staffing and training, examined 
NRC's regulations and guidance, and interviewed managers in NRC's 
Office of New Reactors and several other offices with responsibilities 
related to new reactor efforts. Furthermore, we interviewed nearly all 
of the announced applicants to obtain their views on the efficiency and 
usefulness of NRC's application review process and observed several of 
NRC's public meetings on the new reactor licensing process. Our ROP 
work was conducted from July 2005 through July 2006, and our new 
reactor licensing work from January 2007 through September 2007, in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 


NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation provides overall direction 
for the oversight process and the Office of Enforcement is responsible 
for ensuring that appropriate enforcement actions are taken when 
performance issues are identified. NRC's regional offices are 
responsible for implementing the ROP, along with the inspectors who 
work directly at each of the nuclear power facilities. NRC relies on on-
site resident inspectors to assess conditions and the licensees' 
quality assurance programs, such as those required for maintenance and 
problem identification and resolution. With its current resources, NRC 
can inspect only a relatively small sample of the numerous activities 
going on during complex operations. NRC noted that nuclear power 
facilities' improved operating experience over more than 25 years 
allows it to focus its inspections more on safety significant 

One key ROP goal is to make safety performance assessments more 
objective, predictable, and understandable. The unexpected discovery, 
in March 2002, of extensive corrosion and a pineapple-size hole in the 
reactor vessel head--a vital barrier preventing a radioactive release-
-at the Davis-Besse nuclear power facility in Ohio led NRC to re- 
examine its safety oversight and other regulatory processes to 
determine how such corrosion could be missed.[Footnote 3] Based on the 
lessons learned from that event, NRC made several changes to the ROP. 
NRC continues to annually assess the ROP by obtaining feedback from the 
industry and other stakeholders such as public interest groups, and 
incorporates this feedback and other information into specific 
performance metrics to assess its effectiveness. 

In anticipation of licensing new reactors, NRC has accelerated its 
efforts to build up its new reactor workforce. NRC's workforce has 
grown from about 3,100 employees in 2004 to about 3,500 employees as of 
August 2007, and NRC projects that its total workforce size needs will 
grow to about 4,000 employees by 2010. 

NRC estimates that the first few COL applications will require about 
100,000 hours of staff review and identified around 2,500 associated 
review activities related to each application's detailed safety, 
environmental, operational, security, and financial information, which 
may total several thousand pages. NRC anticipates that for each 
application, the review process will take 42 months--including 30 
months for its staff review, followed by approximately 12 months for a 
public hearing.[Footnote 4] In addition to the COL, NRC has established 
(1) the design certification, which standardizes the design of a given 
reactor for all power companies using it, with modifications limited to 
site-specific needs, and (2) an early site permit, which allows a 
potential applicant to resolve many preliminary siting issues before 
filing a COL application.[Footnote 5] Electric power companies plan to 
use five different reactor designs in their COL applications. 

NRC Uses Various Tools and Takes a Risk-Informed and Graded Approach to 
Ensuring the Safety of Nuclear Power Facilities: 

In implementing its ROP, NRC oversees the safe operation of nuclear 
power facilities through physical inspections of the various complex 
plant equipment and operations, reviews of reactor operator records, 
and quantitative measures or indicators of each reactor's performance. 
(See table 1 for a more expansive treatment of these tools.) These 
tools are risk-informed in that they focus on the aspects of operations 
considered most important to safety. NRC bases its oversight process on 
the principle and requirement that licensees have programs in place to 
routinely identify and address performance issues without NRC's direct 
involvement. Thus, an important aspect of NRC's inspection process is 
ensuring the effectiveness of licensee programs designed to identify 
and correct problems. On the basis of the number and risk significance 
of inspection findings and performance indicators, NRC places each 
reactor unit into one of five performance categories on its action 
matrix, which corresponds to graded, or increasing, levels of 
oversight. NRC assesses overall facility performance and communicates 
the results to licensees and the public on a semiannual basis. 

Table 1: The ROP's Multiple Tools and Graded Approach: 

ROP Tool: Baseline inspections; 
Description: NRC collects information about reactor units' performance 
from baseline inspections by NRC inspectors and quantitative measures 
reported by the licensees. These physical inspections are the main tool 
NRC uses to oversee safety performance of facilities. NRC defined 
specific inspection areas by developing a list of those elements most 
critical to meeting the overall agency mission of ensuring safety at 
nuclear power facilities. 

ROP Tool: Significance determination process; 
Description: When NRC inspectors identify a finding they consider to be 
more than minor,[A] they use a significance determination process to 
assign one of four colors--green, white, yellow, or red--to reflect the 
finding's risk significance, which is set on the basis of measures that 
reflect the potential health effects that could occur from radiological 
exposure. The significance determination process assesses how an 
identified inspection finding increases the risk that a nuclear 
accident could occur, or how the finding affects the ability of the 
facility's safety systems or personnel to prevent such an accident. For 
some findings, this process is more deterministic in nature rather than 
being tied to risk, such as for emergency preparedness or radiation 
protection. In these areas, NRC defines a response appropriate for the 
given performance problem. 

ROP Tool: Supplemental inspections; 
Description: When NRC issues one or more greater-than-green inspection 
findings for a reactor unit or facility, it conducts supplemental 
inspections.[B] There are three levels of supplemental inspections 
performed by regional inspectors that expand the scope beyond baseline 
inspection procedures and focus on diagnosing the cause of the 
performance deficiency; 
* the lowest level assesses the licensee's corrective actions to ensure 
they were sufficient in both correcting the problem and identifying and 
addressing the root and contributing causes to prevent recurrence; 
* the second level has an increased scope that includes independently 
assessing the extent of the condition for both the specific and any 
broader performance problems; 
* the highest level is yet more comprehensive and includes determining 
whether the reactor unit or facility can continue to operate and 
whether additional regulatory actions are needed. This level is usually 
conducted by a multidisciplinary team of NRC inspectors and may take 
place over several months. 

ROP Tool: Cross-cutting aspects or issues; 
Description: As part of its inspection process, NRC evaluates all of 
its findings to determine if certain elements of reactor facility 
performance, referred to as cross-cutting aspects, were a contributing 
cause to the performance problem. There are three cross-cutting aspect 
areas: (1) problem identification and resolution, (2) human 
performance, and (3) a safety-conscious work environment. If more than 
three findings have similar causes within the same cross-cutting area 
and if NRC is concerned about the licensee's progress in addressing 
these issues, it determines that the licensee has a "substantive" cross-
cutting issue. NRC notifies the licensee that it has opened a 
substantive cross-cutting issue, and it may ask the licensee to respond 
with the corrective actions it plans to take. 

ROP Tool: Special inspections; 
Description: NRC conducts special inspections of reactors when specific 
events occur that are of particular interest to NRC because of their 
potential safety significance or potential generic safety concerns 
important to all reactor units or facilities. Special inspections 
determine the cause of the event and assess the licensee's response to 
the event. For special inspections, a team of experts is often formed 
and an inspection charter issued that describes the scope of the 
inspection efforts. 

ROP Tool: Performance indicators; 
Description: In addition to its various inspections, NRC also collects 
information through its performance indicator program, which it 
maintains in cooperation with the nuclear power industry. On a 
quarterly basis, each facility voluntarily self-reports data for 16 
separate performance indicators--quantitative measures of performance 
related to safety in the different aspects of operations.[C] NRC 
inspectors review and verify the data submitted for each performance 
indicator annually through their baseline inspections. Similar to its 
process for conducting supplemental inspections, when colors indicating 
the risk level are assigned and when greater-than-green indicators are 
identified, NRC conducts supplemental inspections in response. A green 
performance indicator reflects performance within the acceptable range, 
unlike inspection findings for which green indicates a performance 

ROP Tool: Action matrix; 
Description: NRC uses its action matrix to categorize reactor unit or 
facility performance and apply increased oversight in a graded fashion. 
On a quarterly basis, NRC places each nuclear power reactor unit into 
one of five performance categories on its action matrix, which 
corresponds to graded, or increasing, levels of oversight. The action 
matrix is NRC's formal method of determining how much additional 
oversight--mostly in the form of supplemental inspections and NRC 
senior management attention--is required on the basis of the number and 
risk significance of inspection findings and performance indicators. 

ROP Tool: Assessment letters and public meetings; 
Description: At the end of each 6-month period, NRC issues an 
assessment letter to each nuclear power facility. This letter describes 
what level of oversight the facility will receive according to its 
placement in the action matrix performance categories, what actions NRC 
is expecting the licensee to take as a result of the performance issues 
identified, the inspection schedule for the next 15 months, and any 
documented substantive cross-cutting issues. NRC also holds an annual 
public meeting at or near each facility's site to review performance 
and address questions about the facility's performance from members of 
the public and other interested stakeholders. 

ROP Tool: Industry trends; 
Description: Annually, NRC assesses the results of its oversight 
process on an industry-level basis by analyzing the overall results of 
its inspection and performance indicator programs and comparing them 
with other industry-collected and reported performance data. 

Source: GAO analysis of NRC documents. 

Note: NRC conducts an annual self-assessment of the ROP, which includes 
soliciting input from internal and external stakeholders on its 

[A] NRC defines "minor issues" as those that have little actual safety 
consequences, little or no potential to impact safety, little impact on 
the regulatory process, and no willfulness. 

[B] Supplemental inspections are also conducted for greater-than-green 
performance indicators. 

[C] There also are three physical security performance indicators that 
were outside the scope of this review. 

[End of table] 

The ROP Has Identified Numerous Problems at Nuclear Power Facilities, 
but Few Have Been Considered Significant to Their Safe Operation: 

From 2001 through 2005, the ROP identified performance deficiencies 
through more than 4,000 inspection findings at nuclear power 
facilities. Ninety-seven percent of these findings were designated 
green--very low risk to safe facility operations, but important to 
correct. Two percent (86) were white findings that were considered to 
be of low to moderate risk significance. Twelve findings were of the 
highest levels of risk significance--7 yellow and 5 red. More recently, 
from January 2006 through June 2007, NRC identified an additional 1,174 
green findings, 27 white findings, 1 yellow finding, and no red 

NRC also reviews performance indicators data--used to monitor different 
aspects of operational safety--that facility operators report to 
categorize the level of reactor unit performance for each indicator. 
From 2001 through June 2007, NRC reported that less than 1 percent of 
over 39,000 indicator reports exceeded acceptable performance 
thresholds and nearly half of all reactor units have never had a 
performance indicator fall outside of the acceptable level. Through 
June 2007, 3 of the 16 performance indicators have always been reported 
to be within acceptable performance levels--measuring the amount of 
time that the residual heat removal safety system is unavailable, 
monitoring the integrity of a radiation barrier, and monitoring 
radiological releases. Since 2001, three reactor units have reported a 
yellow indicator for one performance indicator. No red indicators have 
ever been reported. 

For varying periods from 2001 through 2005, on the combined basis of 
inspection findings and performance indicators, NRC has subjected more 
than 75 percent of the reactor units to oversight beyond the baseline 
inspections. While most reactors received the lowest level of increased 
oversight through a supplemental inspection, five reactors were 
subjected to NRC's highest level of oversight. Reactor units in this 
category were generally subjected to this higher oversight for long 
periods due to the more systemic nature of their performance problems. 
Currently, 1 unit is receiving the highest level of oversight by NRC, 
and 10 units at 6 facilities are receiving the second level of 

NRC inspectors at the facilities we reviewed indicated that when a 
reactor unit's performance declines it is often the result of 
deficiencies or ineffectiveness in one or more of the three cross- 
cutting areas--problem identification and resolution, human 
performance, and a safety-conscious work environment. NRC inspectors 
cited examples of possible cross-cutting issues: (1) a facility does 
not have an effective corrective action program that appropriately 
identified and resolved problems early; (2) a facility employee has not 
followed correct maintenance procedures, and NRC made a finding 
associated with the human performance area; and (3) facility management 
is complacent by not paying attention to detail or adhering to 
procedures. Our examination of ROP data found that all reactor units 
that NRC subjected to its highest level of oversight had findings 
related to one or more of these substantive cross-cutting issues. In 
addition, recent NRC inspections have found more problems associated 
with these cross-cutting issues, in part because of new guidance for 
identifying and documenting them. 

NRC Continues to Make Improvements to Its ROP in Key Areas: 

Our 2006 report found that NRC has generally taken a proactive approach 
to continuously improving its oversight process, in response to 
recommendations that grew out of the Davis-Besse incident; independent 
reviews; and feedback that is usually obtained during NRC's annual self-
assessment of its oversight process from stakeholders, including its 
regional and on-site inspectors. Continued efforts will be needed to 
address other shortcomings or opportunities for improvement, however, 
particularly in improving its ability to identify and address early 
indications of declining safety performance at nuclear power 
facilities. For the most part, NRC considers these efforts to be 
refinements to its oversight process, rather than significant changes. 

Specific areas that NRC is addressing include the following: 

* To better focus efforts on the areas most important to safety, NRC 
has formalized its process for periodically revising its inspection 
procedures. In particular, NRC completed substantive changes to its 
inspection and assessment program documents--including those currently 
guiding the highest level of NRC inspections--to more fully incorporate 
safety culture. 

* To address concerns about the amount of time, level of effort, and 
knowledge and resources required to determine the risk significance of 
some inspection findings, NRC has modified its significance 
determination process, which, according to NRC's 2006 self-assessment, 
has significantly improved timeliness. 

* To address concerns that performance indicators did not facilitate 
the early identification of poor performance, NRC has modified several 
indicators to make them more risk-informed for identifying the risks 
associated with changes in the availability and reliability of 
important safety systems. In addition, NRC revised an indicator to more 
accurately reflect the frequency of events that upset reactor unit 
stability and challenge critical safety functions. NRC is considering 
options for revising indicators for emergency preparedness and reactor 
cooling systems. Both NRC's 2006 self-assessment and internal staff 
survey cited the need to further improve the performance indicators and 
their associated guidance. 

* Although NRC and others have long recognized the effects of a 
facility's safety culture on performance, NRC did not undertake efforts 
to better incorporate safety culture into the ROP until 2005, when it 
formed a working group to lead the agency's efforts. To date, the group 
has completed guidance for identifying, addressing, and evaluating 
cross-cutting issues specific to safety culture. 

Our 2006 report concluded that NRC's efforts to incorporate safety 
culture into the ROP may be its most critical future change to the ROP 
and recommended that NRC aggressively monitor; evaluate; and, if 
needed, implement additional measures to increase the effectiveness of 
its initial safety culture changes. We also recommended that NRC 
consider developing specific indicators to measure important aspects of 
safety culture through its performance indicator program. While NRC has 
largely implemented initial safety culture enhancements to the ROP that 
primarily address cross-cutting issues, it does not plan to take any 
additional actions to further implement either recommendation before it 
completes its assessment of an 18-month implementation phase at the end 
of this year. This assessment will include lessons learned that NRC 
managers have compiled since July 2006, including insights from 
internal and external stakeholders about the effectiveness of ROP 

In addition, we recommended that NRC, in line with its desire to make 
the ROP an open process, make available additional information on the 
safety culture at nuclear power facilities to the public and its other 
stakeholders to provide a more comprehensive picture of performance. 
NRC has implemented this recommendation by modifying its ROP Web site 
to fully explain the review process regarding cross-cutting issues and 
safety culture, and now provides data and correspondence on the reactor 
units or facilities that have substantive open cross-cutting issues. 

NRC Has Implemented Many Actions to Prepare Its Workforce for New 
Reactor Licensing Reviews and Manage Its Workload, but Several Key 
Elements Are Still Under Way: 

NRC has prepared its workforce for new reactor licensing reviews by 
increasing funding for new reactor activities, reorganizing several 
offices, creating and partly staffing the Office of New Reactors (NRO), 
and hiring a significant number of entry-level and midlevel 
professionals. As of August 2007, NRC had assigned about 350 staff to 
NRO, about 10 percent of the total NRC workforce; however, some 
critical positions are vacant, and the office plans to grow to about 
500 employees in 2008. To assist its staff in reviewing the safety and 
environmental portions of the applications, NRC plans to contract out 
about $60 million in fiscal year 2008 through support agreements with 
several Department of Energy national laboratories and contracts with 
commercial companies. NRC also has rolled out several new training 
courses, but it is still developing content for in-depth training on 
reactor designs. 

NRC is using a project management approach to better schedule, manage, 
and coordinate COL application and design certification reviews. While 
NRC has made progress, several elements of NRC's activities to prepare 
its workforce are still under way, as the following illustrates: 

* NRC has developed plans for allocating resources for a design 
certification application and an early site permit it is currently 
reviewing, 20 COL applications, 2 additional design certification 
applications, and a design certification amendment application. 
However, NRC has not yet developed specific criteria to set priorities 
for reviewing these applications if it needs to decide which 
applications take precedence. Without criteria, NRC managers are likely 
to find it more difficult to decide how to allocate resources across 
several high-priority areas. Accordingly, we recommended that NRC fully 
develop and implement criteria for setting priorities to allocate 
resources across applications by January 2008, which NRC has agreed to 

* NRC is developing computer-based project management and reviewer 
tools to assist staff in scheduling and reviewing multiple applications 
at the same time. For example, Safety Evaluation Report templates are 
designed to assist COL reviewers by providing standardized content that 
will enable them to leverage work completed during the design 
certification review process. However, the implementation of this and 
other tools has been delayed. We recommended that NRC provide the 
resources for implementing reviewer and management tools needed to 
ensure that the most important tools will be available as soon as is 
practicable, but no later than March 2008, which NRC has agreed to do. 

* NRO established a cross-divisional resource management board early in 
2007 for resolving resource allocation issues if major review 
milestones are at risk of not being met. However, it has not clearly 
defined the board's role, if any, in setting priorities or directing 
resource allocation. Because NRO expects to review at least 20 COL 
applications and 6 design certification, early site permit, and limited 
work authorization applications associated with its new reactor program 
over the next 18 months, it may not be able to efficiently manage 
thousands of activities simultaneously that are associated with these 
reviews. NRC managers we spoke with recognize this problem and plan to 
address it. We recommended that NRC clarify the responsibilities of 
NRO's Resource Management Board in facilitating the coordination and 
communication of resource allocation decisions, which NRC has agreed to 

NRC Has Significantly Revised Its Overall Regulatory Framework and 
Review Process, but Several Activities Are Still in Progress: 

NRC has significantly revised most of its primary regulatory framework 
and review process to prepare for licensing new reactors. Specifically, 
NRC has revised and augmented its rules, guidance, and oversight 
criteria for licensing and constructing new reactors primarily to 
provide for early resolution of issues, standardization, and 
predictability in the licensing process. In making these changes, NRC 
has regularly interacted with nuclear industry stakeholders to 
determine which parts of an application's technical and operational 
content could be standardized and to clarify guidance on certain 
technical matters. In addition, NRC just completed modifications to its 
acceptance review process to include an evaluation of the application's 
technical sufficiency as well as its completeness and made internal 
acceptance review guidance available last week. While NRC has made 
progress in these areas, it has not yet completed some ancillary rules 
and regulatory guidance, or actions to implement certain review process 
components. For example, because NRC only recently solicited public 
comments to further update its environmental guidance, applicants may 
have more difficulty developing specific COL content for unresolved 
issues. In addition, while NRC proposed a rule to update physical 
protection requirements in September 2006, officials told us that it 
will not be made final until 2008. Furthermore, NRC's limited work 
authorization rule, while substantially complete, will not be available 
in final form before October 2007. Lastly, NRC is revising its policy 
for conducting hearings on both the contested and uncontested portions 
of applications. 

In addition, NRC is refining its processes to track its requests for 
additional information to each applicant. In some instances, applicants 
using the same reference reactor design may be asked the same question, 
and one applicant may have already provided a satisfactory answer. With 
a completed tracking process, the second reviewer could access the 
previously submitted information to avoid duplication. We recommended 
that NRC enhance the process for requesting additional information by 
(1) providing more specific guidance to staff on the development and 
resolution of requests for additional information within and across 
design centers and (2) explaining forthcoming workflow and electronic 
process revisions to COL applicants in a timely manner. NRC has agreed 
to do so. 

In conclusion, the safe operation of the nation's nuclear power 
facilities has always been of fundamental importance and has received 
even more emphasis recently as the nation faces an expected resurgence 
in the licensing and construction of new nuclear reactors to help meet 
our growing electricity needs. Our assessment of the ROP has found that 
NRC has made considerable effort to continuously improve its oversight 
activities and to prompt industry to make constant management 
improvements. However, while the current oversight process appears 
logical and well-structured, NRC recognizes the need to make further 
improvements in such areas as the timeliness of its significant 
determination process and the redefinition of some performance 
indicators. Regulating the often complex and intangible aspects of 
safety culture is clearly challenging. While NRC had taken some 
concrete actions to incorporate safety culture into the ROP and now has 
a structured process in place through its inspection program, we 
recommended that NRC continue to act to improve its safety culture 
efforts. NRC plans to evaluate the effectiveness of its current actions 
at the end of this year before considering any further implementation 
of our recommendations. We continue to believe that NRC needs to give 
this issue attention in further revising the ROP so that it can better 
identify and address early indications of declining safety performance 
at nuclear power facilities. 

NRC has made important strides in revising its regulatory framework and 
review process for licensing new nuclear reactors to improve timeliness 
and provide more predictability and consistency during reviews. 
Nevertheless, NRC's workforce will face a daunting task in completing 
certain regulatory actions currently under way and implementing this 
new process as it faces a surge in applications over the next 18 
months--the first of which has just been submitted. We identified four 
actions that NRC could take to better ensure its workforce is prepared 
to review new reactor applications and that its review processes more 
efficiently and effectively facilitate reviews, and NRC agreed to 
implement them. 

Mr. Chairman, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy to 
respond to any questions you or the other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have at this time. 

Contact and Acknowledgments: 

For further information about this testimony, please contact Mark 
Gaffigan, at (202) 512-3841 or by e-mail at Richard 
Cheston, Assistant Director; Sarah J. Lynch; Alyssa M. Hundrup; and 
David Stikkers made key contributions to this testimony. 

[End of section] 


[1] GAO, Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Oversight of Nuclear Power 
Plant Safety Has Improved, but Refinements Are Needed, GAO-06-1029 
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 27, 2006). 

[2] GAO, Nuclear Energy: NRC's Workforce and Processes for New Reactor 
Licensing Are Generally in Place, but Uncertainties Remain as Industry 
Begins to Submit Applications, GAO-07-1129 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 21, 

[3] GAO, Nuclear Regulation: NRC Needs to More Aggressively and 
Comprehensively Resolve Issues Related to the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power 
Plant's Shutdown, GAO-04-415 (Washington, D.C.: May 17, 2004). 

[4] While the evidentiary hearing occurs after NRC staff complete their 
review of an application, such prehearing activities as decisions on 
standing, contention admissibility, and procedural motions begin when 
the application is docketed. 

[5] NRC also plans to issue new regulations providing limited work 
authorizations that would address the construction activities companies 
can conduct with NRC authorization and oversight. Such activities as 
site clearing, excavation, road building, transmission line routing, 
and erecting construction-related support buildings or service 
facilities do not require NRC authorization. 

[End of section] 

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