Management Weaknesses Affect Nuclear Regulatory Commission Efforts To Address Safety Issues Common to Nuclear Power Plants

RCED-84-149: Published: Sep 19, 1984. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1984.

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GAO examined the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) efforts to address safety issues common to nuclear power plants and determined if NRC has corrected earlier management weaknesses highlighted in investigation reports of the March 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) power plant.

GAO found that NRC, as a result of the earlier identified safety issues, has increased the rate at which it develops regulatory solutions for these issues. This more vigorous pace, however, has been overshadowed by the identification of new issues from the TMI accident and other sources. As a result, a larger backlog of unresolved issues exists now than before the accident. GAO also found that NRC has improved its methods for identifying safety issues and determining their importance to safety. NRC does not, however, have sufficient management controls in place to ensure the timely resolution of issues and implementation of appropriate changes to affected nuclear plants and to NRC regulatory procedures.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Almost 3 years have passed and Congress has neither acted on this recommendation nor provided any indication that it plans to do so.

    Matter: Congress may wish to amend the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to expand current reporting requirements to include all safety-related generic issues assigned a high-priority ranking.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although Congress has not acted on this recommendation, the NRC annual report does provide information on the status of generic safety issues. In addition, the NRC Safety Issue Management System provides a status of the implementation/verification safety issues.

    Matter: Congress may wish to amend the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to require that the NRC annual report summarize the total number of generic issues identified, resolved, implemented, and fixed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC stated that it receives all high-priority generic issues screened by its staff and has them all available for review. NRC did not commit to reviewing all high-priority generic issues. NRC does not intend to take any additional action.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should review all high-priority generic issues to determine if they warrant designation as unresolved safety issues.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC prepares, and periodically updates, a report that ranks generic safety issues related to nuclear power plants. NRC believes the report assists it in allocating resources to resolve those issues that present the most significant risk.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should analyze overlapping generic issues to better define issue priority.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC stated that it will stress the importance of adhering to established peer review time frames. NRC does not intend to take any other action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should establish time frames to prevent delays in peer reviews of the ranking efforts.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC started to place greater emphasis on resolving generic safety issues, and the staff believes that adequate resources are available.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should assess ways to eliminate the backlog of unresolved generic issues sooner than is currently planned. The Chairman should also determine whether adequate resources are available within the agency for this purpose. If adequate resources are not available, the Chairman should consult with the NRC congressional oversight committees to work out a mutually agreeable timetable and the necessary resources.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed with this recommendation and stated that it has begun action to implement it. NRC has gathered about 90 percent of the data needed to change the generic issue management system. Although NRC has information on issue priority, milestones, and expenditures, it is finding inaccuracies in the system.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should change the generic issue management information system to maintain issue identity through resolution to ensure that these efforts correlate with issue priority.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC stated that its management information system includes projected resource needs for some, but not all, issues and it is not necessary to include such information for those generic issues included in the Human Factors Program Plan.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should change the generic issue management information system to include information such as resource needs, expenditures, identification dates, issue priority, prioritization dates, constant original milestones dates, and actual milestone dates.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed and changed its management information system to show the outcome of resolving generic issues. This has been verified by the GAO review, December 31, 1984, update of the system report. NRC also explained how some verification of the effectiveness of its prioritization system is routinely performed.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should maintain summary information on the resolution outcome of the resolved issues, continually update this information as new issues are resolved, and use this information to evaluate the generic issue identification and prioritization processes.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed and stated that it is developing a Standard Review Plan tracking system to implement this recommendation. NRC issued a draft tracking system on March 25, 1985, and will periodically update the information it contains.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should identify those resolved issues requiring changes to the Standard Review Plan and monitor and maintain summary information on their progress.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed and stated that it correlated a number of multiplant actions with its corresponding resolved generic issues. Subsequently, GAO noted that NRC correlated resolved generic issues with its corresponding multiplant action in its periodic summary updates of the status of generic issues. NRC stated that it decided to require licensees to confirm when plant modifications are complete.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should identify those resolved issues requiring changes to operating plants, correlate these issues with multiplant actions, and track them until all of the plants have made the required modifications.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC stated that a report on the prioritization of 38 multiplant actions was completed in October 1984, and all future actions will be routinely prioritized by its management committee to review new generic requirements. The NRC staff has also been evaluating the feasibility of a new method of developing licensees' schedules for implementing multiplant actions.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should develop a multiplant action priority system to ensure that NRC gives priority attention to those actions most important to safety.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  11. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC stated that it is using improvements in probabilistic risk assessment data and methods as they become available to increase the reliability of the priority ranking system. Because implementation of this recommendation is an ongoing and continuous process, the recommendation should be dropped from further follow-up consideration.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should revise the current priority ranking system to increase its reliability as improvements are made in the probabilistic risk assessment methodology.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

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