NRC undergoes IAEA expert review

12 November 2010

An international team of senior nuclear safety experts today has completed a two-week International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review of the governmental and regulatory framework for nuclear safety in the United States.

The team identified good practices within the U.S. system and offered suggestions for ways the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) could improve. The IAEA has conveyed the team’s main conclusions to the NRC, and a final report will be submitted to the NRC in about two months.

At the request of the United States, the IAEA assembled a team of 19 international experts to conduct an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission. This mission was a peer review based on the IAEA Safety Standards. It was not an inspection, nor an audit.

The experts came from 14 different countries: Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Team leader Jukka Laaksonen of Finland said: "We found a comprehensive, consistent, and mature regulatory system run by the NRC, which has a strong drive for continuous improvement.”

The scope of the mission included the U.S. regulatory framework and the regulation of the nuclear plant operation. The mission was conducted from 18 to 29 October, mainly at NRC headquarters outside of Washington, D.C. To study U.S. regulatory activities, the mission conducted a series of interviews and discussions with NRC staff and other organizations to help assess the effectiveness of the regulatory system. In addition, the team observed regulatory activities at two operating nuclear power reactors and an emergency preparedness exercise.

The IAEA´s IRRS coordinator Gustavo Caruso said, "This mission represents a milestone for the IRRS program because the U.S. regulatory system is the largest in the world and many nations look to it. The IRRS is a useful tool that allows host nations to gain guidance from experienced nuclear regulators. Such missions also help to build mutual confidence between States in the field of nuclear regulation."

The IRRS team identified several strengths in the U.S. regulatory system, including:

* The achievement of a mature safety regulation system that meets its clearly defined strategic goals, organizational values, and the NRC’s principles of good regulation;

* A transparent licensing process that accepts input from public citizens and environmental reviews, and ensures that key documents are publicly available; and

* A high level of human resource development, due to rigorous staff training at all levels and efforts to ensure long-term knowledge management.

The IRRS team also made suggestions to improve the overall performance of the U.S. regulatory system. Examples include:

* The NRC should consider increasing its effort to use IAEA safety standards in its own regulations;

* The NRC should develop a fully integrated management system that will coordinate a number of programs and processes that are currently not fully integrated; and

* The NRC should incorporate lessons learned by the practice of other nations using licensee-conducted periodic safety reviews as a way to improve the NRC’s assessment process.

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