House Democrats Push Back Against Proposed Changes to Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Reactor Oversight Process

July 15, 2019
Press Release
Leaders of Appropriations, Energy and Commerce Committees warn that moving ahead with dramatic changes to NRC safety protocols without meaningful public input would weaken vital safety oversight and put public at risk; Lawmakers demand public comment period prior to vote on proposed changes

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations and Energy and Commerce Committees today pushed back against proposed changes by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to its Reactor Oversight Process (ROP), the program that monitors and manages the performance and safety measures governing nuclear power plants. 

In a letter to NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki, Committee leaders expressed deep concern with a number of fundamental changes to agency safety protocols currently under review, criticizing the agency for its failure to garner input from the public and interested stakeholders prior to considering the potential changes. Specifically, the letter raises concerns with three potential changes: replacing NRC inspector assessments with industry self-assessments; arbitrarily reducing core safety inspections; and reducing the significance and public reporting of “white” findings.

The letter was signed by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL).

“To ensure nuclear power provides safe, reliable, emissions-free energy, it is imperative for the NRC to uphold strong regulatory standards. That is why we are disturbed by the consideration of these far-reaching changes to the NRC’s regulatory regime without first actively conducting robust public outreach and engagement,” the lawmakers wrote. “It would be a mistake to attempt to make nuclear power more cost competitive by weakening NRC’s vital safety oversight. Cutting corners on such critical safety measures may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry.”

In addition to raising the lawmakers’ concerns, the letter requests that the NRC hold a public comment period prior to any vote by its Commissioners on the potential changes and notes that the Committees – in keeping with a report accompanying recent House-passed legislation – will seek a briefing from the NRC on its proposals.

“We understand that, in the coming weeks, NRC staff will provide to the Commission recommendations for proposed changes on the ROP. Given the significance of the proposed changes to the ROP, we request that NRC hold a public comment period prior to Commissioners voting on any changes,” the lawmakers added.

The full text of the letter can be found below. A PDF of the letter is available here.
 

July 15, 2019
 

The Honorable Kristine L. Svinicki

Chairman

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Washington, DC 20555-0001

Dear Chairman Svinicki:

We write to express our deep concern with potential changes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is contemplating regarding its Reactor Oversight Process (ROP).  Specifically, we are troubled by three alterations the Commission staff is currently reviewing:

  1. Replacing NRC inspector assessments with industry self-assessments;
  2. Arbitrarily reducing core safety inspections; and
  3. Reducing the significance and public reporting of “white” findings.

The ROP has governed the NRC’s regulatory oversight of nuclear reactors for nearly two decades and is critical to ensuring the health and safety of nuclear workers and the public.  

Congress established the NRC as an independent agency whose primary mandate is to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials, while also protecting the public and the environment.  It is difficult to understand why the NRC would attempt to make fundamental changes to its safety protocols without ensuring in-depth public awareness, comment and input.

While we are aware of at least three “public meetings” that the NRC has held on these potential changes on March 7, March 14, and April 24 of this year, it appears that each of these Category 2 sessions included only NRC staff and industry representatives.  None of these meetings included significant input or comment from the general public and interested stakeholders.

Proceeding with these dramatic changes without sufficient input from a wide range of public stakeholders may jeopardize the health and safety of workers and the public.  Each proposed alternation weakens the current standards and it is unclear why the NRC is pursuing these changes now and in an expeditious manner that does not appear to ensure broad public input.

The House of Representatives officially raised this concern when it passed H.R. 2740, which includes the Fiscal Year 2020 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill, on June 19, 2019.  That bill included report language opposing these changes and requested a briefing from NRC on this critical issue. 

To ensure nuclear power provides safe, reliable, emissions-free energy, it is imperative for the NRC to uphold strong regulatory standards.  That is why we are disturbed by the consideration of these far-reaching changes to the NRC’s regulatory regime without first actively conducting robust public outreach and engagement.  It would be a mistake to attempt to make nuclear power more cost competitive by weakening NRC’s vital safety oversight.  Cutting corners on such critical safety measures may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry.  

We understand that, in the coming weeks, NRC staff will provide to the Commission recommendations for proposed changes on the ROP.  Given the significance of the proposed changes to the ROP, we request that NRC hold a public comment period prior to Commissioners voting on any changes. 

It is critical these steps are taken before any further action.  Thank you for your consideration and attention to our request. 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Frank Pallone, Jr.      Nita Lowey

Bobby L. Rush           Marcy Kaptur

 

cc: The Honorable Jeff Baran, Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

      The Honorable Annie Caputo, Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

      The Honorable David A. Wright, Commissioner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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116th Congress