Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nothing Else Matters

In early December NRC Commissioner Ostendorff provided the keynote speech at Nuclear Energy Asia.*  A significant portion of his remarks addressed the importance of safety culture to nuclear safety.  In terms of safety culture insight I think it is fair to say there wasn’t much new here.  However the continued emphasis by the NRC at the Commissioner level may be signaling how they may choose to proceed with regulation of nuclear safety culture.

“Decades of experience in the nuclear field have shown that regulators have to do more than simply establish standards. Rather, I believe it to be more appropriate for a regulator to establish a high-level expectation or policy to help foster the development and maintenance of a strong safety culture.” (p. 2)

This sounds consistent with the current safety culture policy track being followed by the NRC staff.  But just preceding this comment, Ostendorff said: 

“Within the national nuclear safety infrastructure, I believe that a strong safety culture is the key foundation. Without this one essential cornerstone – a strong safety culture – nothing else matters.” (p. 2)

This echoes statements by other Commissioners, and in regulatory actions for specific licensees, that safety culture is essential to nuclear safety.  If that is the case, doesn’t it set the bar very high in terms of regulatory responsibility for ensuring adequate safety culture?   And with the bar set so high, is it sufficient for the NRC to just establish a policy or “expectations” for safety culture, but not rules or regulatory requirements?  We will present a much more detailed look at NRC policy making in an upcoming post.

*  W.C. Ostendorff, "Regulatory Perspectives on Nuclear Safety," International Keynote Address, Nuclear Energy Asia 2010, Hong Kong, China (Dec 7, 2010) ADAMS Accession Number ML103420523.

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