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NRC: No Major Problems With New-Plant Licensing

Aug. 1, 2013—While the NRC has found no major licensing issues in new-plant construction, the staff has recommended several changes.

The NRC issued combined licenses in early 2012 for four new reactors at Southern Co.’s Vogtle site in Georgia and SCANA’s V.C. Summer site in South Carolina. These projects mark the first time the NRC’s new licensing process (10 CFR Part 52) has ever been used. In March, the agency established a working group to review the implementation of the regulatory process during the first year of construction.

The working group interviewed more than 70 current and former NRC staff and drew insights from three public meetings, including one on March 28 at which the industry presented its initial conclusions. A July self-assessment review found “no significant problems or impediments” associated with the regulatory process for new-plant construction.

“Most aspects of Part 52 implementation were performed effectively and efficiently,” the NRC concluded. However, “[as] expected with any new process, the first-time implementation of the … Part 52 regulatory processes has resulted in challenges.”

Based on its review, the working group recommended several enhancements:

  • Review the design control documentation to identify and correct ambiguities concerning changes that require prior agency approval.
  • Consider engaging higher-level management to help resolve significant construction inspection findings. When the NRC feels it has sufficient evidence of a violation, it should begin enforcement action, even if the issue is still being discussed.
  • Continue efforts to clarify the level of detail needed in licensee notifications to close specific inspection, tests, analyses and assessment criteria. Each reactor project involves about 800 such items.
  • Continue to communicate and clarify the objectives of the NRC’s vendor inspection program.
  • Look for ways to improve the process for making changes during construction.

The NRC has scheduled a commission briefing Aug. 27 to discuss construction activities.