Up & Atom


The NRC’s Acting Executive Director for Operations recently issued the results from the NRC staff’s annual Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) self-assessment for calendar year 2023. Out of the 17 metrics it evaluated, the NRC staff found that two did not meet or exceed expected performance, resulting in “yellow” findings. This is an overall improvement from the 2022 self-assessment, which had two “yellow” and two “red” findings due, in part, to continuing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the staff concluded that the “ROP remained effective in achieving its goals of being objective, risk-informed, understandable, and predictable, as well as in supporting the agency’s strategic goals.”

The NRC uses the ROP to inspect, monitor, and assess the safety and security performance of operating commercial nuclear powerplants and respond to declining performance. The ROP monitors performance in three broad areas: reactor safety, radiation safety for workers and the public, and plant security. To measure plant performance, the ROP focuses on seven specific cornerstones and three cross-cutting areas, so named because they affect each cornerstone.

The ROP uses color-coded findings for both performance metrics and inspection findings (green, white, yellow, and red). Similar to the ROP itself, the annual self-assessment measures 17 objective performance metrics. For each metric, the NRC staff assigns one of three color-coded outcomes: green (meets or exceeds expected performance), yellow (warrants further evaluation and potential staff action to correct), or red (unexpected performance that requires further evaluation and likely staff action to correct). 

NRC’s Self-Assessment Finds All But Two Metrics Meet or Exceed Expectations

The NRC staff’s 2023 self-assessment found that 15 of the 17 performance metrics were green and two were yellow. The two yellow metrics were resident inspector staffing levels (Metric I-5) and the timeliness of final significance determinations for greater-than-green (GTG) inspection findings (Metric E-3). Both of these metrics have been yellow or red for several consecutive self-evaluation cycles while the NRC continues to implement changes to improve its performance in these two areas.

Metric I-5 – Analysis of Resident Inspector Site Staffing

This metric measures resident inspector status at operating power reactor sites. In order for this metric to be green, permanent resident inspector staffing levels at the sites must be at least 95%. The overall staffing level fell from 93.3% in 2022 to 92% in 2023. While in 2022 two out of four regions were above the 95% staffing goal, in 2023 only one region met this threshold and Region IV saw a significant staffing level decline from 96% to 85%.

The NRC noted that Region IV experienced a record 60% turnover rate, which resulted in staffing continuity challenges, and that certain sites within Region IV have historically been difficult to fill even after the NRC increased relocation incentive bonuses for these sites. The NRC also noted that hiring and training has not kept pace with staffing needs and that several individuals in the resident inspector training program left the program for other positions within the agency. The NRC did note that Region IV continues to aggressively hire for its resident inspector development program.

Metric E-3 – SDP Completion Timeliness for Potentially Greater-Than-Green Findings

This metric measures whether potentially GTG inspection findings receive a final significance determination within 255 days from identification. For this metric to be green, no more than one final determination can exceed that 255-day threshold. In both 2022 and 2023, three final significance determinations exceeded this threshold.

The NRC staff noted that this metric has been yellow since 2020. In 2022, the NRC staff recommended several actions to improve performance and has been working to implement them. As for the three delayed final determinations in 2023, the staff noted that one final determination was held up by a licensee delay in providing key causal evidence after it was requested. A second final determination was delayed by a significant and necessary technical review. Because these two delays did not share a common cause, no additional or corrective actions were identified.

In sum, the 2023 self-assessment concluded that the ROP continues to function at acceptable levels in most areas. The NRC is also aware of and working to address areas where performance is challenged.

Morgan Lewis regularly counsels clients on NRC reactor oversight issues and inspection findings and will continue to monitor developments in this area.