Nuclear Safety:

Uncertainties About the Implementation and Costs of the Nuclear Safety Convention

RCED-97-39: Published: Jan 2, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 2, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed implementation of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, focusing on: (1) how compliance with the Convention's terms and obligations will be reviewed by the ratifying countries; and (2) the potential costs to the United States to participate in the Convention.

GAO found that: (1) the method to review compliance with the Convention on Nuclear Safety has not been finalized; (2) the Convention does not impose sanctions for noncompliance but seeks to encourage compliance through peer pressure; (3) the Convention relies on each ratifying country to prepare a self-assessment report of its nuclear power program; (4) these reports will, in turn, be reviewed by other member countries at periodic meetings to determine how each country is complying with the Convention; (5) the level of detail to be included in these reports has not been finalized, nor has the process by which countries will critically review these reports been fully determined; (6) as the method is currently envisioned, groups composed of five or six countries would form the core of the review process; (7) the countries with the greatest number of operating nuclear reactors, the United States, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Russia, would participate in separate review groups made up primarily of several other countries with operating reactors; (8) although U.S. government officials did not originally favor the country-grouping approach, they believe the United States will have adequate opportunities to review the safety programs of all countries through other mechanisms established by the Convention; (9) the costs associated with the United States' participation in the Convention have not been fully determined; (10) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of State, and the Department of Energy have estimated that it could cost as much as $1.1 million to participate in planning meetings to develop the Convention's policies and procedures, prepare the first U.S. self-assessment report, review other countries' reports, and participate in the first review meeting; (11) other costs, a portion of which the United States will incur, associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency's administration of the Convention are less certain but could range up to $10.3 million through the first review meeting, according to a 1993 estimate; (12) NRC officials believe, however, that the actual costs will be significantly less, about $1 million to administer the first review meeting; and (13) the costs for subsequent review meetings have not been estimated.

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