Nuclear Regulation:

NRC Staff Have Not Fully Accepted Planned Changes

RCED-00-29: Published: Jan 19, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) shift to a risk-informed regulation, focusing on the: (1) views of NRC's staff on the quality of the work that NRC performs, the management of and staff's involvement in changes occurring in the agency, and the move to a risk-informed regulatory approach; and (2) status of NRC's efforts to develop a strategy to implement a risk-informed regulatory approach.

GAO noted that: (1) according to GAO's survey results, the vast majority of NRC's staff feel personally responsible for the quality of their work and believe that their work contributes to protecting public health and safety; (2) they also generally believe that NRC's management supports their efforts in this regard; (3) with respect to NRC's efforts to change its regulatory approach, however, the staff expressed less favorable views; (4) a large number of NRC's staff do not believe that management is effectively leading the change process or involving them in the changes being made; (5) with respect to the change to risk-informed regulation, in particular, almost half of the staff who responded to the survey said that the approach could be effective, but only about one-fourth believe that NRC's staff have "bought in to" the process; (6) relatedly, many staff expressed concern about a central element of risk-informed regulation--the new oversight process to assess the performance of nuclear power plants; (7) responding to a recommendation that GAO made in an earlier report, NRC's staff expect to provide the Commission with a draft comprehensive strategy for moving to a risk-informed regulatory approach in February 2000; (8) NRC will then seek public comments on the strategy, and it may then take another year before NRC has an implementation roadmap; (9) until the roadmap is available, NRC's staff will not have a clear appreciation of their role in implementing the various activities, the type of training they will receive, and the interrelationship of the various activities; (10) in addition, NRC has neither established long-range goals to implement a risk-informed approach nor developed performance indicators to determine whether the agency has met the goals; (11) with such information, NRC could redefine or redirect, for example, its communication and training strategies and have a living document that is updated as new issues arise; and (12) without such information, NRC has no way to determine where it is going, how it will get there, or what progress has been made.

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