Fewer Inspections for Aging Nuclear Plants, Regulators Propose

The letter was signed by Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce committee; Bobby L. Rush of Illinois, who chairs that panel’s subcommittee on energy; Nita M. Lowey of New York, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee; and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who chairs that panel’s subcommittee on energy programs.

Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in an emailed statement that her organization “applauds the N.R.C. staff effort to systematically evaluate the decades-old” inspection system. She said this would “ensure that it reflects a more robust understanding of the current performance of the U.S. nuclear fleet.”

The new report also recommends several changes to the agency’s system of flagging safety violations, which are currently ranked (in order of danger from mild to high) as green, white, yellow and red. Currently, if a plant is found to have a safety violation in the white to red range, that violation is kept on a plant operator’s record for a year. The new report recommends removing such violations from a plant’s record once it is resolved.

That change would also require a vote by the commission.

Edwin Lyman, the acting director of nuclear safety programs for the Union of Concerned Scientists, was highly critical of that proposal. “That’s bad because it could impair the ability of the N.R.C. to see larger patterns of violations at a plant,” he said.

The report also proposes making changes to the classifications of nuclear safety violation. Currently, violations in the “white” category are described as those that would create “low to moderate” risk in the surrounding community, while those in the “yellow” category are described as creating “substantial” community risk.

In a change that could be implemented by the agency staff without a vote by commissioners, the report proposes re-categorizing “white” safety violations as creating simply a “low” risk and “yellow” violations as creating a “moderate” risk. Mr. Lyman called the proposal “a PR stunt. They’re doing it to make these things sound better.”

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