United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
                     Office of Public Affairs
                       Washington, DC 20555
              Phone 301-415-8200   Fax 301-415-2234
                       Internet:opa@nrc.gov

No. 99-27                               (FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE)
                                     (Friday, February 12, 1999)

         NRC TAKES ISSUE WITH DEFENSE NUCLEAR FACILITIES 
                       SAFETY BOARD REPORT 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- while it currently has no plans to regulate
Department of Energy (DOE) defense facilities -- has taken issue with a
report claiming that such regulation would be too costly and could
undermine national security.

The NRC discussed its points of disagreement in commenting on a report issued
last fall by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which monitors
and evaluates the safety of DOE's defense nuclear facilities.  NRC
Chairman Shirley Ann Jackson, on behalf of the full Commission, forwarded
the agency's comments recently to Congress and to the board chairman, John
T. Conway.

In her forwarding letter, Chairman Jackson pointed out that the NRC and the
DOE are now conducting a pilot program to test the effectiveness of
outside regulation on selected non-defense DOE programs, "maintaining a
bright line to designate clearly that defense nuclear facilities are not
included in the Pilot Program."  The NRC has focused on non-defense
program facilities and does not currently have plans to provide external
regulation to the defense program facilities.  However, she added, the NRC
accepts the DOE's own Working Group position on External Regulation that
"all DOE nuclear facilities, including Defense Programs facilities, would
ultimately be subject to full regulation by the NRC, and we observe that
there is nothing in your draft report that either discusses or raises any
reasonable doubt" about that view.  The NRC believes that, as a general
matter, DOE defense nuclear facilities should adhere to the same health
and safety standards that civilian facilities must meet.

In her letter, Chairman Jackson stated that the Commission believes
consideration of the questions and issues raised by Congress related to
external regulation of DOE defense facilities should be deferred until the
pilot program on external regulation is completed at the end of the
current fiscal year.  "We look forward to engaging the [Defense Nuclear
Safety] Board along with other stakeholders in evaluating the outcome of
the pilots and in preparing any recommendations to the Administration and
Congress," her letter says.


The NRC agreed to explore external regulation of the DOE nuclear
facilities after a couple of reports, prepared for the DOE based on broad
and extensive review, recommended that nuclear safety at these facilities
be regulated by an authority outside of the Department.

In December 1995, the Advisory Committee on External Regulation of
Department of Energy Nuclear Safety recommended external regulation
of DOE by an independent regulatory agency.  

Based on the conclusions of the DOE Advisory Committee, an internal 
DOE working group in late 1996 recommended the NRC as the external
regulator of nuclear safety.  

In March 1997, the NRC decided to explore external regulation of the
DOE nuclear facilities in response to stakeholder comments on the NRC
strategic assessment and rebaselining initiative and the DOE
recommendations.

The NRC and the DOE signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish
a pilot program in November 1997 to test the feasibility of the NRC
regulating certain DOE facilities through simulated regulation.

In 1997 through 1998, the NRC simulated regulation at three pilot
sites: the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California; the
Radiochemical Engineering Development Center at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory, in Tennessee; and the Receiving Basin for Off-site Fuel
at the Savannah River Site, in South Carolina.  A fourth pilot, at
the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, has been postponed to
allow broader participation of Federal and State agencies.

The pilots revealed a number of legal, financial, and policy issues which would
need to be addressed before NRC oversight could be accomplished.  However,
the NRC believes the pilots have not revealed any issues that could not be
resolved.  If Congress determines that NRC should regulate the DOE nuclear
facilities, and if adequate resources are provided and any necessary
legislation enacted, the NRC believes it would be successful in regulating
DOE nuclear facilities.

Chairman Jackson's letter to John Conway will be available shortly on NRC's
web page, at www.nrc.gov/NRC/NMSS/doepilot.html   

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