By BRYAN RAHIJA
A host of inconsistencies in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) oversight of spent nuclear fuel storage is leading to increased public health and safety risks, according to a new report issued by the Commission's Inspector General (IG).
The report, released May 19, found that the training and expertise of NRC staff who inspect independent spent fuel storage installations (ISFSIs) is mixed:
Current ISFSI safety inspector training does not provide inspectors with a consistent understanding of NRC’s inspection requirements. Specifically, NRC staff do not have a consistent understanding of the agency’s requirements relating to ISFSI inspections, the use of enforcement at ISFSIs, and the role of resident inspectors at sites with ISFSIs.
As the IG points out, this lack of consistent training seems to contradict the Commission's own policies:
"Although it is NRC’s policy to assign only trained and qualified individuals with the knowledge and aptitude to perform onsite inspection activities consistent with agency expectations, there is no formalized agencywide training program for ISFSI safety inspectors."
When training requirements vary among staff, compromised oversight of ISFSI safety inspections can occur. Specifically, there is an increased potential that inspections will overlook discrepancies, resulting in an increased risk to public health and safety.
But training inconsistencies aren't the only thing that may be leading to greater risks to the public:
The period between routine ISFSI inspections varies among regions from 1 to almost 6 years. Although NRC expects a level of consistency in the performance of ISFSI inspections, inspection frequencies vary because the frequency required to conduct routine ISFSI inspections is not clearly defined. Routine ISFSI safety inspections could be delayed indefinitely without clearly defined inspection frequency guidance, potentially increasing the risk to public health and safety.
The IG reported that NRC management "stated their general agreement with the findings and recommendations" in the report.
For the uninitiated, the IG offers this definition of ISFSI:
An independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) is an NRC licensed facility designed and constructed for the interim storage of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive materials associated with the spent fuel. An ISFSI typically consists of a concrete storage pad, storage containers (casks), and any support facilities. The majority of ISFSIs are located at operating reactor sites
Bryan Rahija edits POGO's blog.
Image of ISFSI at the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant: NRC IG