Nuclear Regulation:

Stricter Controls Needed for Radioactive Byproduct Material Licenses

RCED-89-15: Published: Oct 12, 1988. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) licensing, inspection, and enforcement program for the use of radioactive materials.

GAO found that NRC usually did not: (1) verify license application information; (2) visit facilities before granting licenses; (3) have specific, detailed criteria for its license reviewers to determine when a denial was warranted; or (4) ensure that applicants and licensees could pay to clean up facilities contaminated by spills or releases of radioactive material. GAO also found that NRC: (1) sometimes took over a year to renew licenses, possibly allowing licensees to operate in an unsafe manner; (2) did not have specific criteria directing the use of financial penalties against licensees who repeatedly violated training, radiation monitoring, and recordkeeping regulations; and (3) has been slow to establish a certification program for industrial radiographers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC will provide additional guidance to license reviewers regarding the denial of applications and plans to require prelicensing inspections for large programs.

    Recommendation: To enhance NRC efforts to improve the materials licensing program, the Chairman, NRC, should develop detailed license denial criteria and define the circumstances that require a prelicense inspection or information verification procedures.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC agrees that a rule requiring a minimum level of financial assurance to cover potential accidents is needed; however, NRC has been unable to budget for this activity. NRC believes that its 1988 decommissioning rule improves the financial responsibility of major materials licensees.

    Recommendation: To enhance NRC efforts to improve the materials licensing program, the Chairman, NRC, should finalize regulations that require a minimum level of financial assurance that licensees can pay for the cleanup of accidental spills and releases.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC does not believe long renewal proceedings allow unsafe operations since inspections are still performed at required frequencies. However, NRC is instituting a program to reduce renewal delays.

    Recommendation: To enhance NRC efforts to improve the materials licensing program, the Chairman, NRC, should require that broad scope or, at a minimum, medical treatment licensees begin license renewal actions 1 year in advance and that NRC conduct inspections before extending the licenses.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC recently revised its enforcement policy to clarify that licensees who repeatedly commit minor violations will be subject to civil penalties. NRC is also considering additional guidance and training to ensure consistency in applying this policy.

    Recommendation: To enhance NRC efforts to improve the materials licensing program, the Chairman, NRC, should review NRC policies for imposing civil penalties on licensees who repeatedly violate administrative requirements in order to determine whether further guidance on appropriate enforcement actions is needed.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

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