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Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Preliminary Observations on Its Process to Oversee the Safe Operation of Nuclear Power Plants

GAO-06-888T Published: Jun 19, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2006.
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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has the responsibility to provide oversight to ensure that the nation's 103 commercial nuclear power plants are operated safely. While the safety of these plants has always been important, since radioactive release could harm the public and the environment, NRC's oversight has become even more critical as the Congress and the nation consider the potential resurgence of nuclear power in helping to meet the nation's growing energy needs. Prior to 2000, NRC was criticized for having a safety oversight process that was not always focused on the most important safety issues and in some cases, was overly subjective. To address these and other concerns, NRC implemented a new oversight process--the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP). NRC continues to modify the ROP to incorporate feedback from stakeholders and in response to other external events. This testimony summarizes information on (1) how NRC oversees nuclear power plants, (2) the results of the ROP over the past several years, and (3) the aspects of the ROP that need improvement and the status of NRC's efforts to improve them. This testimony discusses preliminary results of GAO's work. GAO will report in full at a later date. GAO analyzed program-wide information, inspection results covering 5 years of ROP operations, and detailed findings from a sample of 11 plants.

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