Nuclear Regulation:

NRC's Efforts to Ensure Effective Plant Maintenance Are Incomplete

RCED-91-36: Published: Dec 17, 1990. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the: (1) importance of safe nuclear power plant operations; and (2) status of the debate between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear utility industry on the need for facility maintenance regulations.

GAO found that: (1) while both NRC and the industry agreed that maintenance was crucial to safe, reliable, and efficient power plant operations and nuclear utilities improved such maintenance, some problems still remained; (2) the debate centered on NRC need to establish additional comprehensive maintenance regulations, NRC endorsement of the industry's program, and the specific plant areas and systems included in such regulations or programs; (3) NRC concluded that the lack of comprehensive regulations applicable to maintenance contributed to inconsistency in utility program implementation; and (4) NRC proposed maintenance regulations that would broaden its oversight over all plant systems. In addition, GAO found that industry opposed NRC maintenance regulations over all systems, since: (1) powerplants developed a nearly identical program; (2) including all balance-of-plant systems would dilute attention from the plant's safety-related portions; and (3) NRC lacked guidance that the utilities could use to establish acceptable maintenance programs. GAO also found that: (1) industry believed that utilities, not NRC, should determine the plant systems, structures, and components to be emphasized in maintenance programs; (2) NRC lacked specific standards applicable to all aspects of plant operations and extrapolated the results of selected samples of utility operations to make a judgement about the entire plant; and (3) industry questioned NRC ability to develop a single quantitative indicator to predict equipment or system failures resulting from poor maintenance practices.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1991, NRC issued a final rule on maintenance. According to NRC, the final rule would enable it to provide more direct authority for NRC enforcement actions in the balance of plant prior to actual equipment failures.

    Recommendation: To provide the foundation for ensuring utilities' future commitment to effective plant maintenance, the Chairman, NRC, should base the decision on the need for additional regulations, in large measure, on NRC ability to enforce corrective actions in all plant areas, including balance-of-plant.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC agrees with the recommendation and intends to modify its regular inspection program to include additional attention to maintenance issues. Further, NRC may perform special maintenance team inspections on an as needed basis upon informing the Commission.

    Recommendation: To help NRC ensure compliance with the maintenance requirements eventually established, the Chairman, NRC, should ensure that NRC continually examines utilities' commitment to maintenance either through its regular inspection program or by periodically conducting special team inspections after April 1991.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC agreed in principle with the recommendation. NRC notes that its maintenance effectiveness indicator does not identify all areas in need of review. NRC believes its existing performance indicator program can be used in conjunction with inspections.

    Recommendation: To help NRC ensure compliance with the maintenance requirements eventually established, the Chairman, NRC, should integrate performance indicators into the inspection process.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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