Nuclear Regulation:

Better Criteria and Data Would Help Ensure Safety of Nuclear Materials

RCED-93-90: Published: Apr 26, 1993. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) nuclear materials programs, focusing on whether: (1) NRC agreement-state programs and NRC-regulated state programs effectively protect the public from nuclear materials; and (2) NRC took actions in response to previous GAO recommendations.

GAO found that: (1) NRC lacks adequate criteria and data to assess whether its radioactive materials programs effectively protect the public from radiation contamination; (2) NRC cannot ensure that all states receive the same minimum level of protection and lacks sufficient oversight information to make management decisions, because both agreement-state and NRC-regulated programs lack common performance evaluation indicators and collect and analyze dissimilar information, national assessment reports are incomplete and unreliable, NRC lacks adequate information to assess its programs' effectiveness, and NRC lacks specific criteria and procedures to revoke or suspend agreement-state programs; and (3) although NRC has acted on 3 of the 4 recommendations GAO made in 1988, NRC has not completed regulations requiring licensees to provide minimum financial assurance levels for the cleanup of accidental spills and releases of radioactive materials, which could result in government liabilities totalling $2 million per release.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC plans to take the time necessary to address accidental spills in a broader context. NRC plans to initiate a rulemaking if a required regulatory analysis supports the finding that the benefits outweigh the costs for a separate financial assurance program relating to the cleanup of contamination from accidental spills.

    Matter: Because NRC has not acted on the GAO 1988 recommendation on financial assurance, Congress may wish to consider enacting legislation requiring NRC to establish a reasonable, minimum level of financial assurance that licensees must provide for accidental spills or releases of radioactive material.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC began implementing a new program evaluation approach in 1994. In January 1994, NRC staff prepared a draft management directive for use of common performance indicators to review agreement state and NRC regional materials programs. The directive was tested at two regions and three agreement states. Following a briefing by NRC staff to the Commission on March 9, 1995, the Commission, on June 27, 1995, approved the use of an Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program to assess both NRC regional and agreement-state program using common indicators.

    Recommendation: Because of the inconsistent way in which NRC evaluates the effectiveness of its two materials programs in achieving the goal of adequately protecting the public from radiation, the Chairman, NRC, should establish common performance indicators in order to obtain comparable information to evaluate the effectiveness of both the agreement-state and NRC-regulated state program in meeting NRC goals.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC has developed specific written procedures for suspending or terminating agreements with the agreement states. On August 5, 1994, NRC published in the Federal Register for comments a draft policy statement to establish agreement-state program principles, and to describe the respective roles and responsibilities of NRC and the states. The comment period closed on December 19, 1994, and the staff submitted a draft statement on final policy and procedures to the Commission for its approval. The Commission approved a Final Statement of Principles and Policy for the agreement-state program on June 29, 1995, but requested the staff to submit implementing procedures for final Commission approval by September 30, 1996. On June 30, 1997, the Commission approved the staff's criteria and procedures for suspending or terminating agreement-state programs.

    Recommendation: Because of the inconsistent way in which NRC evaluates the effectiveness of its two materials programs in achieving the goal of adequately protecting the public from radiation, the Chairman, NRC, should establish specific criteria and procedures for suspending or revoking an agreement-state program. Once NRC ensures the effectiveness of the NRC-regulated state program using the new performance indicators, it should take aggressive action to suspend or revoke any agreement-state program that is incompatible or inadequate with the performance indicators.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 1993, NRC hosted a management workshop for the agreement states to discuss reporting events. NRC's goal in holding the workshop was to increase the level of uniformity between NRC and the agreement states on reporting. NRC also held other meetings in 1994 to increase the level of uniformity between agreement states and NRC regional materials programs. In March 1995, NRC implemented a 6-month trial program with the agreement states using the Nuclear Material Event Reporting Database, a database for the collection and analysis of NRC and agreement state nuclear material event related data, including abnormal occurrences. On June 30, 1997, NRC made reporting of events, including abnormal occurrences, by agreement states a mandatory part of an agreement-state program that is compatible with NRC's regulatory program. At the same time, NRC also issued a handbook to ensure that the information on events the agreement-states reported on was complete and accurate.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should: (1) require agreement-states to report abnormal occurrences so that NRC can include the occurrences in its quarterly report to Congress; and (2) take appropriate action to ensure that the information on radiation events in agreement-states is reported completely and accurately.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

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