Better Inspection Management Would Improve Oversight of Operating Nuclear Plants

RCED-85-5: Published: Apr 24, 1985. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 1985.

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GAO reviewed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) management of its operating nuclear power plant inspection program, including: (1) the NRC response to investigative findings concerning the Three Mile Island accident in 1979; (2) documentation for inspection program policies and procedures; and (3) the design and management of the inspection program. To oversee nuclear power plant operations, NRC maintains resident inspectors at each plant to observe daily operations and uses regional inspectors to perform specialized inspection functions.

GAO found that: (1) many of the NRC inspection personnel and utility officials surveyed believe that the inspection program has improved since the Three Mile Island accident; and (2) most of the individuals surveyed believe that utilities comply with federal regulations and that the inspection program ensures safe nuclear plant operations. However, GAO also found that: (1) despite increasing inspection requirements, the average annual inspection time per plant decreased in 1983; (2) about 40 percent of the inspectors surveyed believe that they do not have enough time to ensure compliance with regulations; and (3) most survey respondents believe that NRC should increase its inspection resources. In addition, GAO found that the effectiveness of the inspection program is not as high as it should be because NRC does not: (1) use utility industry reports of plant operating experiences to refine inspection procedures or identify needs to readjust inspection priorities; (2) correlate inspection procedures with functional areas identified in annual power plant performance assessments; or (3) use evaluations prepared by utilities and the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) in inspection program planning. GAO also found that: (1) some NRC inspection procedures are nebulous and need revision; (2) many inspectors believe that they have not received certain mandatory training designed to increase their familiarity with industry standards; and (3) inspectors do not always receive required training because of heavy work loads and inadequate resources.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC developed a program to identify trends and patterns from licensee event reports. Periodic products generated by the new program are being provided to all NRC headquarters and regional offices.

    Recommendation: To improve the NRC operating nuclear reactor inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should systematically analyze licensee reports of plant events to identify trends or issues that need consideration in managing the overall inspection program.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed with this recommendation and undertook two efforts to implement it. NRC correlated inspection procedures with functional areas and upgraded related inspection policies and guidance.

    Recommendation: To improve the NRC operating nuclear reactor inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should formally correlate the inspection procedures with the functional areas used in annual plant assessments.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed and is committed to conducting studies and research and providing training to inspectors to enhance the use of risk-based analyses in the inspection program. This will, however, be a long-term effort.

    Recommendation: To improve the NRC operating nuclear reactor inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should use risk-based analyses, as appropriate, to aid in evaluating overall inspection program and individual power plant priorities by identifying plant operations and inspection procedures that are most clearly related to control of public risk.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1985, NRC agreed to develop a policy on the make-up and use of site-specific inspection plans that included the use of assessment results in developing inspection plans. In November 1985, NRC revised its inspection policy to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the NRC operating nuclear reactor inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should use the reports and analyses discussed above to prepare written inspection plans for each plant.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC restated its policy in this area to its inspectors in July 1986.

    Recommendation: To improve the NRC operating nuclear reactor inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should establish and implement a policy on how NRC managers and inspectors are to monitor utilities' corrective action to evaluation findings, and recognize these evaluations in inspection plans.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Because INPO reports are available to NRC inspectors at plant sites, NRC does not consider it necessary to compile a duplicate list. NRC added that selected INPO reports are often duplicated and evaluated in detail by NRC headquarters and regional inspection officials.

    Recommendation: Because NRC has reduced the number of its performance appraisal team inspections in recognition of similar INPO evaluations, the Chairman, NRC, should also compile and maintain a list of all INPO evaluation reports and those reports released by utilities to NRC.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC stated that adequate methods exist to monitor INPO evaluations without increasing the number of performance appraisal team inspections or requiring that NRC obtain copies of all INPO reports. These methods include NRC accompaniment on INPO evaluations, periodic briefings by INPO management, and access to INPO reports.

    Recommendation: Because NRC has reduced the number of its performance appraisal team inspections in recognition of similar INPO evaluations, the Chairman, NRC, should also establish criteria for determining when the number of NRC performance appraisal team inspections should be increased or decreased in relation to NRC success in obtaining INPO evaluation reports.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on the GAO report, NRC identified 64 procedures needing clarification or other revision. It superseded or deleted 15, substantially revised 12, began rewriting 27, and scheduled the 10 for revision in 1986.

    Recommendation: To clarify the inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should identify and revise, as may be appropriate, areas within the inspection procedures, regulations, or other NRC requirements which are ambiguous or not sufficiently clear in their use or intent.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a letter dated January 8, 1986, NRC described steps taken that, in its view, implement this recommendation. However, the steps cover only those inspectors who have not yet met minimum training requirements and thus are not fully responsive. NRC clearly does not intend to take additional action, so this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To improve the inspection training program, the Chairman, NRC, should identify mandatory training courses, acceptable reasons for not attending on schedule, and maximum permissible time for rescheduling attendance at these courses.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 1985, NRC started compiling quarterly inspection data to analyze the implementation of selected key inspection procedures at each operating plant. Although the data provides a breakdown of types of inspections, it does not include the frequency of violations detected.

    Recommendation: To improve the NRC operating nuclear reactor inspection program, the Chairman, NRC, should use information available in the inspection database to plan and monitor inspections at specific power plants. Analyses of the various types of inspections that are and are not being performed, as well as the frequency of violations detected, should be included in this process.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a January 8, 1986, letter, NRC described steps taken that, in its view, implement this recommendation. However, the steps cover only those inspectors who have not met minimum training requirements and thus are not fully responsive. NRC clearly does not intend to take additional action, so this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To improve the inspection training program, the Chairman, NRC, should determine whether the existing training program meets the needs of inspectors in ensuring compliance with NRC regulations at operating nuclear power plants.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

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