Burns: NRC is at a crossroads

In his first speaking engagement as the newly appointed Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman, Stephen Burns said on Tuesday that the organization is at a turning point.
"Now, perhaps more than ever, the NRC is being scrutinized by its stakeholders for its responsible use of resources, as well as for the regulatory requirements it imposes on its licensees," Burns told the audience at the Platts 11th annual Nuclear Energy Conference in Washington DC. "Congress has charged the NRC with a critical mission to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety and the common defense and security, and the NRC can never lose sight of this mission. Still, the agency can and should retain focus on this mission while also taking a responsible and hard look at whether it is effectively using resources and is working on the right things."
Burns discussed the agency’s newly embarked Project AIM 2020, and the effects it will have on NRC processes and priorities. Awaiting NRC approval, Project AIM focuses on streamlining the agency for optimum time execution while establishing clearer agency-wide priorities that reflect the needs of the nation.
“The NRC is truly a world-class organization made up of many dedicated individuals committed to the agency’s critical mission,” Burns said. “ It is imperative that in the implementation of the final decision, the commission and senior management effectively communicate the bases for our decisions and perhaps more importantly, make sure that the staff understands and embraces the need for change.”
Burns spoke briefly about the NRC’s new reactor activities, noting five units currently under construction: two units at the Vogtle nuclear power plant site in Georgia, two units at the VC Summer plant in South Carolina and one unit at the Watts Bar site in Tennessee. There are also eight active combined license applications and two design certification applications under review by the NRC; a third design certification application is in the acceptance review phase.
Burns, who was appointed to the chairman position in January by President Barack Obama, ended his speech underlining the importance of NRC’s position within the international community and the agency’s future global responsibility.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of these words and the responsibility to ensure that they are given meaning in law and in practice," Burns said. "We have seen regulatory reform in Japan to respond to the national assessments of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. New entrants like the United Arab Emirates have had to face building a national infrastructure, including a competent regulatory authority, from scratch in order to pursue its nuclear energy policy. Again, while you may primarily be focusing on the technical and economic challenges in making the business case for nuclear development, I urge you to be mindful of the need to build confidence in the competence and effectiveness of the national regulator.” 

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