Nuclear R&D:

Research Efforts Under Way to Support Nuclear Power Plant License Renewal

RCED-91-207: Published: Sep 25, 1991. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on research to support the extension of operating licenses for U.S. nuclear power plants, focusing on: (1) the actions the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has taken to implement the National Research Council's recommendations concerning the need for NRC to conduct research on reactor aging to support its licensing renewal efforts; (2) the research on reactor aging that the Department of Energy (DOE) and industry have initiated and completed as a result of Council recommendations that research be performed to prove that NRC license conditions can be met, and whether the results have been provided to NRC, and (3) NRC plans to refine the estimates of risks created by extending the life of the present generation of reactors.

GAO found that: (1) NRC did not formally respond to the National Research Council's recommendation that NRC conduct research to allow it to set new design margins and evaluate the adequacy of existing ones, because NRC considered existing design margins to be adequate; (2) DOE and the industry did not initiate any specific research on reactor aging, but funded a number of research projects in preparation for license renewal reviews; (3) DOE and industry submitted ten reports to NRC, which it believed were the basic analyses needed to support any possible license extension; (4) NRC pointed out that it employs selected probablistic risk assessment techniques in the evaluation of individual systems, structures and components and does not base its regulatory decisions on the probability of accidents occurring, but uses the engineering judgments to determine whether or not a plant can operate safely; and (5) NRC has no plans to use the results of its research on reactor aging or of research obtained from other government and industry sources to establish estimates of the risk that may be created if NRC renews a plant's license.