Nuclear Regulation:

Weaknesses in NRC's Inspection Program at a South Texas Nuclear Power Plant

RCED-96-10: Published: Oct 3, 1995. Publicly Released: Oct 18, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station, focusing on: (1) the circumstances surrounding the shutdown of the plant; (2) whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was aware of problems at the plant before the shutdown; and (3) any factors that may have prevented NRC from having complete and timely information about the licensee's performance.

GAO found that: (1) malfunctioning pumps caused the South Texas licensee to shut down the plant's reactors and equipment outages increased the likelihood that the reactor's core would be damaged in an emergency; (2) NRC was aware of the problems with the emergency pumps and of maintenance work taking place on one of the reactor's generators before the shutdown, but did not realize that one reactor's pump and two of its generators were simultaneously inoperable for extended periods of time; (3) NRC relies on licensees to identify and report problems, since it rarely detects major problems before they do; (4) after NRC completed a comprehensive evaluation of the plant, it revised its overall assessment of the licensee's performance from good to poor and included the plant on its list of plants needing additional oversight; (5) NRC assessment of its inspection program at the plant showed that NRC did not adequately integrate information to determine whether the plant's problems indicated systemic weaknesses in the licensee's operations; and (6) these and other program weaknesses resulted in missed opportunities to inform the licensee about the extent of its performance problems.

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