By John Mahoney, BCP Corporate PMP and Greg Lormand, BCP President

BCP attended the Regulatory Information Conference (RIC) held March 11 – 14, 2019. The conference hosted more than 3,000 participants from over 30 countries representing interested parties from government, industry, international agencies, other stakeholders, and members of the public.  The conference provides a forum for stakeholders to learn, share, and discuss information on significant and timely nuclear regulatory activities, processes, and emergent issues. The 3-day annual conference is co-sponsored by the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and the Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research and is the largest meeting sponsored by the U.S. NRC.

The RIC technical sessions cover a wide range of topics, such as advanced reactors, risk-informed decision making, accident tolerant fuels, fuel cycle issues, the regulatory impact of advances in digital technology, and regulatory research.   It included topics on:

  • Risk-informing advance reactor regulation;
  • Impact of digital technology on nuclear safety;
  • Costs and benefits of advanced modeling and simulation;
  • Exploring the concept of risk-informed decision-making;
  • Debating the role of research in regulations; and
  • Probing the meaning of independence without isolation.

The tone for the conference was one of transformation, being forward-looking, and focusing on improvement.  Both, NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki and NRO, Executive Director of Operations Margaret Doane affirmed this.

“Transformation allows us to look at first principles and review how we are doing things now, and in the future.  What has served us well we will continue to embrace and move strategically forward.”  Kristine Svinicki, Chairman

“We are in uniquely changing times and each staff member must make a decision to take the “Transformation Journey”. One action; one decision at a time.” Margaret Doane, Executive Director for Operations at NRO.

“Have humility [technical capability] and move away from the zero-risk mentality and have greater confidence with using operational history that our predecessors never had.”  Margaret Doane

This theme carried through many of the conference presentations, which we have recapped several of the key areas for the industry.  For example, with reference to new Light-Water reactor reviews, the NRC indicated it is:

  • Enhancing audits as a review tool. Requests for Additional Information (RAI) will remain an important tool to address the need to gather additional information;
  • Engaging in early collaboration reduces RAIs and improves collaboration between regulator and utility. RAI normal response is requested within 30 days; and
  • Modernizing the Standard Review Plan (SRP) is in the works; however, there is currently no timeframe set for completion. It is planned to be prioritized and accessed as part of the normal workload.

With regard to Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMT), such as three-dimensional printing for Power Reactors, the NRC is considering the impacts of these techniques utilized to fabricate new and replacement parts.  The NRC indicated it was ready, technically for AMT reviews and evaluations and there is an NEI roadmap on regulator acceptance of AMT.  Additionally, the DOE is funding investments in AMT for nuclear applications and three-dimensional modeling is being used to reduce costs and improve fit-ups.

Digital Instrumentation and Controls (DI&C) systems were recognized as being vital to address obsolescence and to ensure the long-term sustainability of reactor plants as they age.  In this area the NRC addressed the desire to expand, safe use of DI&C technology. Eric Benner, Director, Engineering NRR/NRC suggested that they are supporting some utilities reviewing and providing regulatory assurance before a capital investment is required (i.e., early collaboration) which is helping to reduce risk. On a welcomed note, Mr. Banner stated, “We need to move beyond zero risk to reasonable assurance of adequate protection.”

John Hernandez, Department Leader, Operations Computer Systems, Arizona Public Service communicated the industries commitment to DI&C, ”What we know is that we are committed as an industry to excellence in execution of our DI&C strategy. We need to tackle the hurdle. Challenges always come with technology.”  In support of this industry effort, a recent example was sited where a DI&C turbine control replacement eliminated 75 single-point vulnerabilities.

We are pleased to see the direction the NRC is heading and hope to continue to see streamlining and transformation that positions nuclear as the best, long-term, sustainable, clean-energy generation choice.