Actions Being Taken To Help Reduce Occupational Radiation Exposure at Commercial Nuclear Powerplants

Gao ID: EMD-82-91 August 24, 1982

In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on increases in occupational radiation exposures that are occurring at commercial nuclear powerplants. The report focused on the extent of the occupational exposure increase, its causes, and what is being done to reduce these exposures.

Workers who operate and maintain commercial nuclear powerplants are exposed to low doses of radiation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires powerplant operators to monitor occupational radiation exposures and to ensure that exposures are within regulatory limits. NRC regulations also state that licensees should maintain exposures as low as reasonably achievable. While individual exposures have been kept well below the regulatory limit, the collective dose has increased. Three factors have clearly contributed to increases in occupational exposures: (1) increased radiation levels and maintenance due to plant age, (2) modifications required by NRC to correct safety problems, and (3) premature failure of major plant components. Additionally, the utility practice of spreading exposures over more workers results in a higher collective dose than would occur otherwise. Based on an NRC analysis, the greatest single cause for weaknesses identified in the area of radiation protection organization and management was the generally poor attitude toward radiological safety which resulted in utilities providing inadequate staff resources and management support. NRC actions to reduce exposure hazards are aimed at strengthening radiation protection at the facility level. DOE is developing a program to develop practical improvements in the generic safety of nuclear powerplants. In addition, private industry is looking into the causes of and methods to reduce occupational exposures. However, it is too early to determine how effective these actions will be.

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