Nuclear Regulation:

NRC's Restart Actions Appear Reasonable--But Criteria Needed

RCED-89-95: Published: May 4, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO assessed the criteria that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) uses to allow nuclear powerplants to restart operations after a shutdown to correct safety or management problems, focusing on: (1) the Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, plant's operating history; (2) NRC rationale for allowing the plant to continue operations despite its history of problems; (3) the extent to which NRC would consider outstanding maintenance items before allowing the plant to restart; and (4) the manner in which NRC addressed public comments.

GAO found that: (1) although NRC did not have criteria for setting out the actions that either it or the utility should take after a shutdown, NRC actions included approval of the utility's corrective action plan, several inspections, independent reviews, public meetings, and restart approval; (2) the Peach Bottom plant was in a lower range of licensee performance evaluations than 15 other plants reviewed, had more marginally satisfactory ratings than 9 other plants, and had more inspection violations than 5 other plants; (3) between 1970 and 1987, NRC issued eight notices of violation against the Peach Bottom plant and the utility paid civil penalties totalling $485,000; (4) at the time of shutdown, NRC ordered the utility to reduce its backlog of maintenance repairs, and the utility subsequently found that it had a larger backlog, but it had reduced the backlog signficantly by March 1989; (5) NRC and the utility held nine meetings to allow public comment on restart activities; (6) as a result of the shutdown, NRC permitted inspections of commercial powerplants without advance notice to the utility and published a policy statement concerning the conduct of nuclear powerplant operations, including employees' behavior; and (7) an independent review agreed that NRC could restart the plant subject to completion of certain equipment modifications and procedural changes.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 23, 1990, NRC established restart guidelines that include all of GAO recommended criteria.

    Recommendation: To ensure that each plant's readiness to restart is assessed, the Chairman, NRC, should develop criteria that include, at a minimum a review and approval of the utility's corrective action plan, inspections to ensure the actions are taken, independent review of NRC actions, and public participation.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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