Why GAO Did This Study
In 1975, a fire at a nuclear power plant damaged critical control cables and hampered operators' ability to monitor the status of the plant's reactor. NRC subsequently issued deterministic fire safety regulations for plants to follow, but differences in plant design, coupled with changes in NRC guidance, made it difficult for most plants to meet the regulations without seeking numerous exemptions. In 2004, NRC issued a regulation permitting plants to voluntarily transition to risk-informed fire protection requirements. This new approach mirrors NRC's efforts to adopt a more risk-informed regulatory approach to nuclear safety in general. In 2008, GAO reported on three key fire safety issues and recommended NRC take action to address them.
GAO was asked to examine (1) NRC's progress in resolving the long-standing fire safety issues raised in GAO's 2008 report at plants remaining under the deterministic approach and at those plants transitioning to the risk-informed approach; (2) the potential benefits of transitioning to a risk-informed approach and the basis for NRC's decision to make adoption of this approach voluntary; and (3) challenges, if any, in efforts to transition to a risk-informed approach in regulating fire safety. GAO reviewed documents; analyzed responses from operators at a nonprobability sample of 12 nuclear plants and from nine consultants or academic experts on fire safety issues and risk-informed regulations; and interviewed NRC, industry, and public interest group representatives.
GAO is not making recommendations in this report. NRC found the report to be accurate and complete.