NRC's Operator Licensing Program

EMD-79-67: Published: May 15, 1979. Publicly Released: May 18, 1979.

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An analysis was made of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) program for licensing nuclear powerplant operators. Information from the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident and from other nuclear plants has raised questions concerning the program. The specific events that caused the nuclear accident at TMI and are being carefully evaluated by NRC. However, the Chairman, NRC, and the Director of the Office of Reactor Regulation have publicly stated that human error was a major contributor to the accident at TMI.

While the principal causes of the nuclear accident are tentative, documentation shows that human/operator error has occurred at other commercial nuclear power plants. Human error could involve errors caused by nuclear facilities' management, maintenance, and other technical personnel who are not required to be licensed by NRC. Operator error relates only to those personnel who are licensed to operate a nuclear reactor. Personnel with various levels of qualifications form the organization that operates a commercial nuclear power plant. NRC has no minimum eligibility requirements for either type of operator. Instead, NRC endorses a standard established by the American Nuclear Society pertaining to the selection and training of nuclear power plant personnel. In addition to recommendations concerning education and experience, the standard states that minimum health requirements shall be established for operating personnel. Federal regulations state that an applicable operator's license will be approved if NRC finds among other things, the applicant passed a written examination and operating test as prescribed by NRC. NRC recently acknowledged that its power plant operating licensing program needs considerable improvement.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: NRC and the recently appointed Presidential Commission should give attention to the specific questions raised in this review. Their investigations should take special precautions to ensure that the potential for design and other generic weaknesses is not eclipsed by the emphasis on human error.

    Agency Affected:


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