All U.S. nuclear power plant sites have had some groundwater contamination from radioactive leaks, and some of these leaks came from underground piping systems. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates nuclear power plants to protect public health and the environment from radiation hazards. GAO was asked to (1) determine experts' opinions on the impacts, if any, of underground piping system leaks on public health and the environment; (2) assess NRC requirements of licensees for inspecting these systems and monitoring and reporting on leaks; (3) identify actions the nuclear power industry, licensees, and NRC have taken in response to leaks; and (4) identify additional NRC requirements, if any, that key stakeholders think could help prevent, detect, and disclose leaks. GAO convened expert discussion groups through the National Academy of Sciences and asked experts to review three case studies, analyzed documents, visited seven plant sites and two NRC regional offices, and interviewed stakeholders.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||To ensure the continued protection of the public's health and safety, the Chairman of NRC should direct agency staff to periodically evaluate the extent to which the industry's voluntary Groundwater Protection Initiative will result in prompt detection of leaks and, based upon these evaluations, determine whether the agency should expand its groundwater monitoring requirements.||
Closed – Implemented
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||To ensure the continued protection of the public's health and safety, the Chairman of NRC should direct agency staff to stay abreast of ongoing industry research to develop technologies for structural integrity tests and, when they become feasible, analyze costs to licensees of implementing these tests compared with the likely benefits to public health and safety. Based on this analysis, NRC should determine whether it should expand licensees' inspection requirements to include structural integrity tests for safety-related underground piping.||
Closed – Implemented