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1998-05-15 15:33:40


NRC Is Tightening the Screws



The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in charge of the nation's 108 nuclear power plants. The NRC is not about the let a major failure in this industry bring members of the NRC into the limelight for having failed to run the industry "by the book."

The book says, shut 'em down if they aren't compliant.

The NRC is not compliant, of course. No U.S. government agency is.

What is most significant in this official's full testimony is his citation of lots and lots of NRC documents. He is creating a paper trail. This paper trail will get the NRC off the hook when it comes time to shut down the plants. No one will be able to say, "you didn't warn the companies."

Yet nowhere does he say the NRC will in fact shut them down. That might create a panic. No one wants to get blamed for starting a panic.

The y2k problem has been taken care of, he says:

"Further, we believe that we have, through Generic Letter 98-01 and the planned follow-up inspections, established a framework that appropriately assures us that the Year 2000 problem will not have an adverse impact on the ability of a nuclear power plant to safely operate or shut down."

* * * * * * * * *

STATEMENT OF HUGH L. THOMPSON, JR., Deputy Executive Director for Regulatory Programs, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Before the SUBCOMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY, Committee on Science, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, ON



Submitted: MAY 14, 1998

With respect to power reactor licensees, the NRC is working to ensure that all of our systems critical to our mission will be Year 2000 compliant so that our communications and data interfaces will function well. The one mission critical system that is directly linked to operating nuclear power plants is our Emergency Response Data System (ERDS). This application performs the communication and data transmission functions that provide near real-time data to NRC incident response personnel during declared emergencies. The NRC is currently upgrading ERDS to be Year 2000 compliant in order to maintain the same communication protocol as the current system. Once upgraded, either a 2-digit or a 4-digit date field will be accepted. The upgrade is on schedule to be completed, tested and implemented by March 4, 1999. . . .

Last November a framework document, which NRC had reviewed, was sent to all power reactor licensees by NEI. . . .

In order to obtain confirmation that licensees are effectively addressing the Year 2000 problem with regard to compliance with the terms and conditions of their licenses and the NRC regulations, the NRC is requiring that all operating nuclear power plant licensees submit a written response stating how they plan to address the Year 2000 problem. The written response is required by a Generic Letter issued on May 11, 1998, which has been developed and refined over the past six months. . . .

By the middle of August 1998, the initial written response to the Generic Letter is due. In that response, nuclear power plant licensees should indicate whether they are pursuing a Year 2000 program based on the NEI program or a different program. Licensees, who elect to use a different program, are required to present a brief description of the program that they are using to ensure that the computer systems at their facilities will be ready for the Year 2000. In addition, all operating nuclear power plants are required to submit a written response no later than July 1, 1999, confirming that the facility is or will be Year 2000 ready by the Year 2000. If their program is incomplete as of July 1, 1999, their response must contain a status report, including completion schedules, of work remaining to be done to confirm their facility will be Year 2000 ready.

In addition to the written responses, we plan to conduct inspections, on a sampling basis, to assess licensee preparedness for the Year 2000. . . .

Some examples of systems and computer equipment that are most likely to be affected by Year 2000 problems follow:

Plant security computers

Plant process systems (data scan, log, and alarm and safety parameter display system computers)

Radiation monitoring systems

Because of the limited time remaining in which to address the problem, the majority of the program remediation, validation, and implementation activities should be completed at a facility by mid-1999, leaving only a few such activities scheduled for the third and fourth quarters of 1999. . . .

It should be recognized that NEI/NUSMG 97-07 is programmatic and does not fully address all the elements of a comprehensive Year 2000 program. In particular, augmented guidance in the area of risk management, business continuity and contingency planning, and remediation of embedded systems is needed to fully address some Year 2000 issues that may arise in licensee program implementation. . . .

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Role For Electrical Grids

Although the primary focus with our licensees has been on public health and safety related to reactor operations, we recognize the concern that the Year 2000 problem may potentially affect the reliability of electrical grids. . . .


The NRC and the nuclear power industry are addressing the Year 2000 computer problem in a thorough and deliberate manner. To date, we have not identified or received notification from licensees or vendors that a Year 2000 problem exists with safety-related initiation and actuation systems. Further, we believe that we have, through Generic Letter 98-01 and the planned follow-up inspections, established a framework that appropriately assures us that the Year 2000 problem will not have an adverse impact on the ability of a nuclear power plant to safely operate or shut down. We recognize the importance of maintaining a reliable electrical grid and will continue to work with the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion Energy Working Group, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Energy to give assistance and share information regarding potential problems associated with the coming of the Year 2000.


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