WASHINGTON—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s transition to a new oversight process will improve nuclear power plant safety beyond the high levels of safety and reliability already being achieved, the nuclear energy industry told members of Congress today.
"A pilot program conducted last year with 13 reactors at nine nuclear power plants demonstrated that this new oversight process will result in enhanced safety regulation and continued safe operation of our nuclear power plants," said Ralph Beedle, chief nuclear officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute. Beedle testified today before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s subcommittee on nuclear safety. "NEI supports this new oversight process and urges Congress to support it as well."
Beedle applauded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Congress, in its role overseeing the agency, for bringing about the positive changes that will permit the NRC to more effectively and efficiently fulfill its mission of protecting public health and safety.
"The industry strongly encourages this subcommittee and the Congress to continue its oversight and to support the NRC’s regulatory reform and the transition to safety-focused oversight," Beedle said. "This new oversight approach is promising, and we look forward to industrywide application of the program this April."
Beedle noted that the new oversight process-which centers on an on-site inspection program focused on 19 key plant performance indicators-has been made possible in large part by the outstanding safety and operating performance that the industry has achieved for years.
"In 1999, the nuclear power industry had a record year for safety and electricity production. The industry’s commitment to safety is evident in performance indicators tracked both by the NRC and the industry," he said.
The NRC’s new regulatory approach will affect 103 commercial nuclear reactors in 31 states, which supply one-fifth of U.S. electricity needs.
While the industry generally looks favorably on the NRC’s new regulatory approach, it agrees with the General Accounting Office that NRC needs to place greater emphasis on long-range planning and training. "There is still a need for better long-range strategic planning and more training by the agency as it makes this significant transition to a new oversight process," Beedle said. "The NRC needs to improve in both of these areas so the agency staff will be fully prepared for the planned changes."
The new oversight process replaces a system that industry long had felt consumed plant and NRC resources on issues that have little or no safety significance, and that fostered inconsistent, subjective assessments of plant performance.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.