UCS Provides a Valuable Voice at NRC’s Annual Conference

March 21, 2016 | 1:35 pm
Lisbeth Gronlund
Former Contributor

Earlier this month, UCS’s two nuclear power experts—Dave Lochbaum and Ed Lyman—took part in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) 28th annual Regulatory Information Conference (RIC). The RIC, held on March 8-10, was attended by some 2,800 people. Most were from the NRC and the nuclear industry, but also in attendance were roughly ten members of the public and staff from public-interest organizations.

EL RIC-2016The RIC featured speeches by NRC Chairman Stephen Burns and NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff, and Jeff Baran, as well as more than three dozen technical sessions. Dave and Ed participated in three of the sessions.

Ed participated in the Fukushima session. UCS had just released Ed’s report Preventing an American Fukushima, which assessed the work done in the five years since the Fukushima disaster to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear plants to such severe accidents. In his presentation, Ed discussed the lessons learned—and the lessons unheeded—by the NRC and U.S. nuclear industry.

DL RIC-2016Dave participated in the session on Enhancing the Significance Determination Process (SDP) used in the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process. When an NRC inspector identifies a safety violation, the NRC uses the SDP to determine the severity of that violation. The NRC wanted to “enhance” the SDP, contending it consumed too many resources and yielded untimely outcomes. Dave’s presentation showed that the data does not support either of those contentions and concluded “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”

Dave also participated in the session on Project AIM, the NRC’s initiative to downsize and re-focus its efforts now that the anticipated nuclear renaissance has fizzled and there have been several closures of nuclear power reactors across the country, with more possible. The NRC recently identified 151 items (including programs, projects, and procedures) that it is considering eliminating. Dave pointed out that the 2015 RIC cost the NRC $920,000—nearly double the meeting expense limit set by the Office of Management and Budget—and was exceeded by only two of the candidates on the chopping block. The candidate list did not include the RIC. Dave called on the NRC to provide more public information about why it chose the 151 items, and why it left other things off the list.