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Press Release 2014/03

IAEA Mission Concludes Peer Review of the US Nuclear Regulatory Framework

11 Februay 2014 | Washington, D.C., United States of America –- An international team of senior nuclear safety experts today concluded a nine-day International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to review the regulatory framework for the safety of operating nuclear power plants in the United States of America (USA).

The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission was a follow-up to the IRRS mission to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that was conducted in 2010, with the key additional aim of reviewing whether the response of the US regulatory regime to the implications of the accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Plant had been timely and effective.

The mission team concluded that the recommendations and suggestions made by the 2010 IRRS mission have been taken into account systematically under the NRC's subsequent action plan, with significant progress in many areas and many improvements carried out. One of two recommendations and 19 out of 20 suggestions made by the 2010 IRRS mission have been effectively addressed and can therefore be considered closed. The outstanding recommendation relates to the NRC's review of its Management System, which is in the process of being finalised.

The IRRS team also found that the NRC acted promptly and effectively after the Fukushima accident in the interests of public health and safety, and that the report of its Near-Term Task Force represents a sound and ample basis for taking into account the lessons learned from the accident.

"The NRC is to be commended for its positive response to the findings of the IRRS mission in 2010," said Colin Patchett, IRRS mission Team Leader and Director - IRRS Missions at the United Kingdom’s Office for Nuclear Regulation. "NRC staff have shown their professionalism and commitment, enabling the team to close the majority of issues from the previous mission."

NRC Chairman, Allison M. Macfarlane, said: "We greatly appreciate the team's findings that the NRC's post-Fukushima actions are appropriately addressing the lessons we've learned. I'm pleased to see not only that our 2011 Near-Term Task Force report is internationally respected, but that our inspection activities are also highlighted as being 'exemplary'."

In its preliminary report, the IRRS team made the following general observations:

  • The NRC has put in place measures to clarify that the prime responsibility for safety lies with the licensees;
  • The NRC has made a clear commitment to complete and implement the description and map of its Management System;
  • The NRC has implemented procedures to ensure a systematic review of its Guides is carried out, taking account of operational experience feedback and IAEA safety standards;
  • Requirements for emergency preparedness have been expanded to ensure that the emergency exercise programme is challenging to all those involved; and
  • The role of the safety/security interface has been enhanced through improved analysis of operating experience, and development of an integrated safety/security culture.

The IRRS team identified the following good practice:

  • Significant non-nuclear events in other industries are systematically analysed as part of the operating experience programme, and this analysis is coordinated and communicated through the new Operating Experience Center of Expertise.

It also identified one new suggestion where overall performance of the regulatory system could be enhanced:

  • The NRC should consider developing consolidated regulatory requirements and corresponding guidance in order to facilitate the orderly transition from operation to decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

The 5-member review team from Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK, as well as three IAEA staff members, conducted the mission at the request of the US Government from 3 to 11 February 2014. The final report will be submitted to the US government in about three months.

Background

The IRRS mission to the US in 2010 reviewed a broad spectrum of legal and regulatory issues within the nuclear regulatory framework, resulting in recommendations to fully comply with the IAEA Safety Standards and suggestions for further possible improvement of the regulatory framework. The IAEA encourages countries that have hosted initial IRRS missions to invite follow-up missions two to four years after the initial mission.

Quick Facts

The USA has 100 operating nuclear power reactors at 62 sites. As of 2013, nuclear power contributed about 19 per cent of the country's electricity production.

About IRRS Missions

IRRS missions are designed to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the national nuclear regulatory infrastructure of States, while recognizing the ultimate responsibility of each State to ensure safety in this area. This is done through consideration of regulatory, technical and policy issues, with comparisons against IAEA safety standards and, where appropriate, good practices elsewhere.

More information about IRRS missions is available on the IAEA Website.