Higher Penalties Could Deter Violations of Nuclear Regulations

EMD-79-9: Published: Feb 16, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 1979.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) uses civil penalties to enforce its regulations governing the construction and operation of commercial nuclear facilities and the possession, use, and disposal of nuclear materials. NRC requested Congress to authorize a raise in penalties for each violation and for all violations occurring in a period of 30 consecutive days. Penalty limits are low compared to amounts authorized for other Federal regulatory agencies, considering the potential consequences of major violations.

The present limits on NRC's authority to impose civil penalties are too low for effective use on licensees with large and potentially hazardous nuclear operations. NRC civil penalties do not provide these licensees with the economic incentives to improve the safety of their operations, nor do they promote NRC's desired image of a tough but fair regulator. GAO supports NRC'S request for authority to impose larger civil penalties, but does not agree with the proposal to limit the penalty for all violations in a 30-day period. This increase in the maximum penalty imposed for violation and the need for NRC to revise its present enforcement policies and procedures indicate that NRC should incorporate details of its enforcement program in its regulations.

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