The Role of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in the Safety of Nuclear Power in the United States
Testimony before the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety,
Committee on Environment and Public Works
July 30, 1998

James T. Rhodes
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am James T. Rhodes, chairman and chief executive of fleer of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, INPO, based in Atlanta, Georgia. The purpose of my testimony is to briefly outline INPO programs to promote safe and reliable operation of commercial nuclear power plants, and discuss how these efforts are complementary to but independent of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; to discuss recent nuclear industry performance; and to summarize some of the more important challenges facing the commercial nuclear power industry in this country.

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations

The mission of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations is to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability - to promote excellence - in the operation of nuclear electric generating plants. INPO was formed by the U.S. nuclear utility industry in 1979. In carrying out this mission, INPO does not engage in public, media or legislative activities to promote nuclear power.

INPO is a nonprofit, technical organization, with all U.S. utilities that operate commercial nuclear power plants being a member. In addition to these domestic member utilities, nuclear operating organizations in 15 other countries, and 12 nuclear steam supplier and architect-engineering and construction firms from around the world, participate in INPO's international and supplier participant programs, respectively. To ensure credibility with its members and with the federal government, INPO maintains its independence with respect to any individual member and with respect to government agencies.

To carry out its mission, INPO has four cornerstone programs:

_On-site evaluations of each operating nuclear plant in the U.S.

_Training, and the accreditation of training programs, for key plant personnel

_ Analysis of events and communication of lessons learned from such events; and

_ Assistance to members in a broad range of areas pertaining to nuclear plant operations

The Institutional Plan for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and our 1997 Annual Report provide additional details about INPO's programs and are attached to my written testimony (Attachments A and B).

INPO's relationship to NRC

INPO is independent from, but it's role is complementary to, the NRC. The ultimate goal of both organizations is the same - to protect the health and safety of the public by helping ensure safe nuclear plant operations. However, the means by which we strive to achieve that goal are quite different.

The President's Commission on the Three Mile Island Accident - the Kemeny Commission- observed in 1979 that strict NRC safety regulations are necessary for nuclear safety, but, standing alone, those regulations are not sufficient for nuclear safety. The Commission stated in its report to President Carter that: "We are convinced that regulations alone cannot assure safety." What was needed alongside the NRC's basic regulations was for the men and women who run our country's nuclear plants to have a deep commitment to excellence in the pursuit of nuclear safety. This professional commitment to excellence simply cannot be mandated by regulations, no matter how strict. INPO was created to help build this commitment, and it has done so. Accordingly, INPO was not created to supplant the regulatory role of the NRC, but to provide the means whereby the industry could, acting collectively, make its nuclear operations safer and more reliable. INPO recognizes that a strong and capable regulator is in the best interest of nuclear safety and the nuclear industry.

Summary of industry safety performance

Over the past decade our country's nuclear plants have become safer and more reliable. This improvement is reflected in a set of 10 objective, performance- based safety performance indicators the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry uses to monitor the safety and reliability of nuclear plants. This set of indicators has been adopted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators, and is now used worldwide.

I won't today discuss each performance indicator in detail - a listing of the indicators is provided in the INPO Annual Report included as an attachment to my written testimony.

An example is safety system performance.

This indicator monitors the availability of three important standby safety systems at nuclear plants. The industry's goal is to encourage a high state of readiness, with at least 85 percent of these systems meeting specific year 2000 goals for availability in excess of 97 percent. As you can see, the industry trend shows significant improvement. The 1997 value represents strong performance well exceeding the year 2000 goal.

Another example is the performance indicator index, which is a weighted composite of the individual indicators. This graph of the performance indicator index illustrates the industry's dramatic overall improvement since 1985.

Another important indicator of improved industry performance is the trend of significant events at nuclear power plants. This trend is based on data from the NRC and corroborated by INPO data. The data shows a decrease in the number of significant events from 2.38 per unit per year in 1985 to 0.10 at the end of 1997. This represents a decrease of more than a factor of 20 over the past 12 years, a remarkable achievement.

These are examples of the significant performance improvement the industry has achieved over the past 12 years. Now, let me conclude my testimony with a brief summary of current and future nuclear industry challenges.

Current and future industry challenges

Primarily due to impending economic deregulation of electric utilities, the commercial nuclear utility industry faces strong competitive pressures that are forcing unprecedented change. Many factors are involved, but the bottom line for the nuclear industry is that nuclear plants must operate not just safely and reliably, but also economically, to compete with alternative energy sources such as coal and natural gas. Nuclear plants that can achieve a high level of safe, reliable performance will succeed; those that cannot, will not survive.

Although the industry has demonstrated a clear, sustained trend of improvement over more than a decade, we must consider the potential impact of the current economic and regulatory environment on the industry. We believe the NRC needs to carefully evaluate its methods and processes to ensure they are effective in light of the improved industry performance. The agency plays an important role in the commercial nuclear power industry. We believe this role can best be served if the NRC focuses on issues that directly relate to public health and safety, minimizing any subjective, non-safety-related regulation that distracts both NRC and utility resources. Additionally, there must be close connection between the expectation of the Commission and senior officials at NRC and what actually happens in the field at the utility and plant interface. This last subject was addressed in more detail by Dr. Zack T. Pate, at the July 17, 1998 public meeting on stakeholder concerns, and I will not repeat his comments here. However, a copy of that transcript will be submitted for the record.

Subject to your questions, this concludes my testimony. Thank you.