Nuclear Regulation

Better Criteria and Data Would Help Ensure Safety of Nuclear Materials Gao ID: RCED-93-90 April 26, 1993

Nuclear materials--some intensely radioactive--are widely used in instruments that identify flaws in construction materials for bridges and other structures, as well as in medicine to treat diseases like cancer. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the safe use and control of these materials. NRC enforces its regulations either on its own or by entering into agreements with states. These states assume regulatory responsibility and must have programs that are compatible with NRC's and are adequate to protect public health and safety. In response to congressional concerns about whether NRC is adequately protecting the public from these nuclear materials, this report reviews (1) the comparability of NRC's programs for agreement states and NRC-regulated states, including assessments of the effectiveness of both programs, and (2) NRC's actions on GAO's past recommendations.

GAO found that: (1) NRC lacks adequate criteria and data to assess whether its radioactive materials programs effectively protect the public from radiation contamination; (2) NRC cannot ensure that all states receive the same minimum level of protection and lacks sufficient oversight information to make management decisions, because both agreement-state and NRC-regulated programs lack common performance evaluation indicators and collect and analyze dissimilar information, national assessment reports are incomplete and unreliable, NRC lacks adequate information to assess its programs' effectiveness, and NRC lacks specific criteria and procedures to revoke or suspend agreement-state programs; and (3) although NRC has acted on 3 of the 4 recommendations GAO made in 1988, NRC has not completed regulations requiring licensees to provide minimum financial assurance levels for the cleanup of accidental spills and releases of radioactive materials, which could result in government liabilities totalling $2 million per release.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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