By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Resident Inspectors Program has existed since the late 1970s, placing at least two experts on site at every nuclear power plant in the country, in order to protect the public.
Considered the agency’s “eyes and ears” at the nation’s nuclear power plants, according to NRC Region 1 Spokesman Neil Sheehan, there are a total of 150 resident inspectors, including some who are based at nuclear fuel production facilities and new reactor construction sites. Their work, he said, “is at the core of the agency’s reactor inspection program.”
“On a daily basis, these highly trained and qualified professionals scrutinize activities at the plants and check on adherence to federal safety requirements,” Sheehan said.
Resident inspectors oversight takes many forms on any given day, Sheehan said. Their duties can include visiting the control room and reviewing the operator logbook, or observing operators conduct plant manipulations. They can perform visual assessments of a certain area or areas of the plant, observe tests of important systems or components, and any repairs.
They interact with plant employees to see if they have any safety concerns, according to Sheehan, or check corrective action documents to ensure that problems have been identified and appropriate fixes implemented.
“Any safety-significant issues that are identified are promptly brought to the attention of plant operators to be corrected, if necessary,” Sheehan said, “and communicated to NRC management. If any problems are significant enough, the NRC will consider whether enforcement action is warranted.”
The NRC’s resident inspector program was launched in 1978 – prior to the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island 2 nuclear power plant – to improve the agency’s inspection program, Sheehan said.
“Its goal was to provide increased knowledge of conditions at plants, improve the NRC’s ability to independently verify the performance of plant personnel and equipment, and enhance the NRC’s incident response capability,” Sheehan said. “Along those lines, the inspectors serve as the agency’s initial evaluators of plant events or incidents, receive allegations regarding safety issues from plant employees and at times conduct inspections during off-hours and on weekends, among other activities.”