Adequacy of Controls Placed on Radioactive Material Containers

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-05-11.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                           DOCUMENT RESOME

02163 -     A1392384

LAd-quacy of Controls Placed on Radioactive Material
Containers]. EMD-77-35; B-164105. May 11, 1977.   pp. +
enclosure (2 pp.).

Report to Rep. ChristoTher J.   Dodd; by Elmer B.   Starts,
Comptroller General.

Issue Area: Energy (16'0); Energy: Making Nuclear Fission a
    Substantial Energy  ource (1608).
Contact: Energy and Minerals Div.
Budret Function: Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy:
    Energy (305).
Orqgnizaticn Concerned: Nuclear Regulatory Comm.ssion.
Congressional Relevance: Rep. Christopher J. Dodd.
Authority- Energy Reorganization Act of 1974. Legislative
    Reorganization Act of 1970.

         Recommendations presented in a 1973 GAO report on
nuclear regulatory activities have yet to be fully responded to
by either the Atomic Commission (AEC) or its successor, the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). GAO recommended that the
aceny st,ould: develop quality assurance requirements for
licensees to follow in fabricating containers used to transport
the more hazardous radioactive materials; review the designs of
oldar-spent fuel ccntainers to insure that they met current
standards or that their use was appropriately restricted? and
insure that licensees' transportation activities are appraised
regularly.  Findings/Conclusions: AEC prepared rule changes in
accordance with    he recommendations   on regulation of container
quality and wear, but neither AEC nor NRC adopted them.
Fruitless attempts to require licensees to describe in their
applications the establishment and maintenance of quality
assurance programs for designing, fabricating, assembling, and
testing transportation containers were made, and recently NRC
has been trying to develop a graded approach not being regularly
appraised. The time for refining and revising regulations is
over, and the time is right for implementing the regulations.
NRC requires licensed applicants to demonstrate the safety of
their containers by various tests, such as impact, puncture,
heat, and immersion in water, but officials do not consider it
necessary to test by crushing. Recommendations: Regulations
insuring container qality and inspection of old containers
shoild be completed and forwarded for review. Container
manufacturer inspections should be included in the radioactive
materials inspection program. NRC's present procedures and
management controls for developing and implementing new
licensing and inspection requirements should be reexamined to
insure that such requirements are promulgated timely. Crushing
should be used as a test for container safety. (Author/SS)
                                WSHINGTON. D.c; s

0D   B-164105                                          MAY 11 1977

     The Honorable Christupher J. Dodd
     House of Representatives

     Dear Mr. Dodd:

          In response to your request of July 21, 1976, and
     additional discussions with your Office, we have followed up
     on those recommendations in our July 31, 1973, report "Oppor-
     tunity for AEC to Improve its Procedures for Making Sure that
     Containers Used for Transporting Radioactive Materials are
     Safe" (B-164105) and related matters of interest to you.

          Under the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, effective
     January 19, 1975, the nuclear regulatory activities discussed
     in our 1973 report were transferred froma the Atomic Energy
     Commission to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, To date,
     these agencies have not been fully responsive to the recom-
     mendations of our prier report.


          In our 1973 report, we recommended that the Chairman,
     Atomic Energy Commission

          -- develop quality assurance requirements for
             licensees to follow in fabricating containers
             used to transport the more hazardous 1/ radio-
             active materials,

          .- review the designs of older spent fuel
             containers to insure that they met current
             standards or that their use was appropriately
             restricted, and

           -- insure that licensees' transportation activities
              are appraised regularly.

      1/The more hazardous radioactive materials include those types
        used to sustain a nuclear reaction (fissile materials) and
        any other radioactive materials whose aggregate radioactivity
        exceed specified levels.

The Commission agreed and told us that appropriate amendments
to its transportation regulations were being prepared.

     On August 29, 1973, the Atomic Energy Commission advised
the House and Senate Committees on Government Operations, as
required by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, of
tie actions it was taking on our recommendations.  It stated
that rule changes were being prepared to (1) require licensees
to stablish quality assurance programs for the design, fabri-
cation, and se of containers and (2) revoke existing licenses
for certain spent fuel containers so that licensees would have
to submit applications for use of these containers in accor-
dance with current standards. The Atomic Energy Commi-sion
published the proposed regulations for public comment n
December 1973 but did not adopt them, nor had the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission as of February 1977.

No container quality assurance
reulations adopted
      The quality assurance related provisions in he transpor-
tation regulations were general requirements that licensees
maintain operating and inspection procedures adequate to assure
compliance with the regulations. As early as November 1970,
the Atomic Energy Commission considered amending these regu-
lationls to require licensees to establish, maintain, and
describe in their applications quality assurance programs for
designing, fabricating, assembling, and testing transportation
containers. Nevertheless, no actions were taken until after
our 1973 report was issued, and then the Atomic Energy Com-
mission published proposed regulations for public comment. 1/
The proposed regulations included quality assurance require-
ments and specific ests for containers.

     Most comments received were from container fabricators
who objected to the proposed testing requirements. These
fabricators contended that certain tests would disrupt their
existing fabrication processes, and certain others would not
be appropriate for many container types. Four of the ten
firms commenting on the proposed regulations did endorse the

l/Since 1972 the Commissions have required licensees to
  previde quality assurance prcgrams for spent fuel and
  plutonium containers only.


need for improved container quality assurance criteria. Te
Atomic Energy Commission began reevaluating the proposed
regulations and planned to adopt rewr.tten regulations in
May 1975.

     In 1975, however, the Director, Office of Nuclear
Material Safety and Safeguards, Nuclear Regulatory Commission.,
questioned the value of the proposed regulations because the
effort that would be required of his licensing staff to imple-
ment them was not justified. The Director's position is that
the quality assurance requirements should not be applied to
all types of containers to the same degree. Since August 1975,
his Office and the Office of Standards Development have been
trying to develop a graded approach for quality assurance
requirements consistent with the otential hazards of the
authorized contents.

"Grandfathered" containers
may still e used
     In our 1973 report we pointed out that certain spent fuel
containers fabricated before 1966 and approved under previous
standards, but still in use, had not been evaluated under the
current, more stringent standards. The Atomic Energy Commis-.
sion agreed with our recommendation to identify and review the
design of these so-called grandfathered containers. However,
proposed actions to satisfy our recommendation were made part
of the proposed regulations for improved quality assurance,
which have not been adopted.

     There are two grandfathered types of containers which
seven licensees ar! presently authorized to use. Two con-
tainers of one design are used by a licensee for in-plant
transfer of fuel.  Six licensees are authorized to use one
container of the other design for shipping test reactor fuel.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the container
has been improved, but its improved design has not been
reevaluated under current performance standards.

 Licensees' container fabrication
 activities not appraised

      In our 1973 report, we recommended that the Chairman,
 Atomic Energy Commission, iswue that licensees' transportation
 activities are regularly appraised. Officials stated at that
 time, that they would develop guidelines for appraisals and
 would require regional inspection cffices to appraise licensees'


container fabrication   activities. However, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission   has appraised only two fabricators of
spent fuel containers   and is considering including manufac-
tirers of other types   of containers as part of its inspection


     We question the effectiveness of the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission's actions for developing and implementing licensing
and inspection requirements in time to be consistent with
its public health and safety responsibilities. We recognize
the need, and the time necessary, for considering different
points of view. However, in the public interest, decisions
on effective regulation must be timely. At some point,
decisionmakers must strike a balance between the benefits to
be gained from further refining proposeO regulatory actions
and the potential. risks resulting fror their delay.

     In this case, we believe that the recommendations we
made in 1973 are still warranted. We see no reason why the
regulations for quality assurance programs and review of
grandfathered containers should not be adopted, nor why the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission should not appraise licensees'
container fabrication activities. We found other examples of
delay in developing regulations. For example, proposed regu-
lations for better security at nuclear pwerplants had been
under consideration from November 1974 until their adoption
in March 1977--about 28 months. In another case, the Atomic
Energy Commission announced in 1970 that it would issue
reprocessing plant de ommissicning criteria; yet, the criteria
have not yet been developed, nor does the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission have a target date for this effort.
     We recommend that the Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, direct the staff to complete and forward for
review, on a priority basis, the proposed container quality
assurance regulations and the regulation revoking the existing
grandfather clause.
     We also recommend that the Chairman include container
manufacturer inspections in the Commission's radioactive
materials inspection program.


     Finally, we recommend that the Chairman reexamine the
Commission's present procedures and management controls for
developing and implementing new licensing and inspection
requirements to insure that such requirements are promulgated

     In commenting on our letter (see enc. I), the Commission
stated that since 1972 it has required quality assurance pro-
grams for spent fuel and plutonium containers. We must point
out, however, that these types of containers totaled only
40 out of 162--about 25 percent--of the approved container
designs. Quality assurance requirements had not been applied
to the remaining 122 approved designs.


     The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires license
applicants to demonstrate--by analysis, comparison to similar
containers, or actual testing,--that their containers will
keep radioactive material releases below specified levels
under certain normal and accident conditions. The accident
conditions include (1) a 30-foot free drop (to measure impact
resistance capability), (2) puncture, (3) heat, and (4)
immersion in water.

      Research sponsored by the Energy Research and Development
Administration in 1976 revealed that crush--rather than impact
-- is the dominant force in accidents involving multiple quan-
tities of containers transported by trucks. For the most
hazardous radioactive materials, trucking is the most commonly
used transportation mode. As a result of this research, the
Energy Administration is now developing--for its own use and
possible recommendation for incorporation into the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission regulations--a performance standard for
container crushing under accident conditions. The Energy
Administration expects to complete this work about June 1977
and intends to adopt the standard in its transportation

     The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not participating
in the development of this performance standard. While it
recognizes that the major accident force--crushing--is not
addressed in its performance standards, it also believes that,
based on transportation experience, the standards have been


satisfactory. For example, containers meeting the impact test
have substantial resistance to crushing. Officials told us
that as part of an ongoing transportation-related rulemaking
proceeding, the Commission is reexamining the adequacy and
appropriateness of all of the present performance standards
for containers used to ship the more hazardous radioactive
materials, including whether or not a specific standar on
crush is needed.


     We believe it important that container performance
standards reflect actual transportation conditions, including
accident conditions. The Energy Research and Development
Administration has found that crushing is the dominant force
in accidents involving multiple quantities of containers
transported by truck and is developing a crush standard for
its own use and possible adoption Dy the uclear Regulatory
Commission. For this reason, we believe that container per-
formance standards should address crushing since it is the
predominant accident condition for containers shipped in
multiple quantities.


     We recommend chat the Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, include crushing as one of the container perfor-
mance standards.

     As directed by your office, we are sending copies of this
report to the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
and selected Committees and Members of the Congress.

                              Si cjely your

                             Comptroller General
                             of the United States

 ENCLOSURE            I                                                  ENCLOSURE    I

,C,        to''o                              UNITED STATES
                   g '965     (tea   NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
           ,.z ~WASHINGTON,
                  ,~                                  D. C. 20555

%*    ..     °'*5                                     APR 19 1977

      Mr. Monte Canfield, Jr.
      Director, Energy and Minerals Division
      U.S. General Accounting Office
      Washington, D. C. 20548
       Dear Mr. Canfield:
                   Subject:      GAO Draft Letter Report to the Honorable Christopher J.
                                 Dodd, Connecticut, on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission!s
                                 Procedure to Assure Safety on the Transportation of
                                 Radioactive Materials
      This will confirm that the subject draft report has been reviewed by
      senior staff members of the NRC. Except ft the discussion of quality
      assurance ad the recommendation to add    crush test, we believe that
      the report is factually correct and fairly presents the view of the NRC.
      The report states that the NRC has not adopted container quality
      assurance regulations. Although specific quality assurance require-
      ments have not as yet been included in the NRC regulations, the NRC
      has not neglected quality assurance practices for packages. There are
      general quality assurance requirements irn the regulations (e.g., main-
      tenance, operating, and inspection procedures; and procedures for
      closing and opening containers), and we have required rigorous quality
      assurance plans for construction of packages used to transport spent
      reactor fuel and plutonium since 1972. These plans follow the 18
      quality assurance requirements that are applied to nuclear reactors
      and other facilities (Appendix B, 10 CFR 50). The adequacy of these
      plans are reviewed and approved by specialists on the NRC staff before
      package approvals are issued. While this practice may not conform to
      the letter of the previous GAO recommendation, we believe that it follows
      its spirit. The absence of more specific quality assurance provisions
      in the regulations had not endangered the health and safety of the
      You also recommend that the NRC include a crush test as one of the
      container performance standards. Our current regulations require that
      all packages be designed to survive impact, puncture and external
      pressure tests. It is our belief that a package that meets these per-
      formance standards has substantial resistance to crush. The NRC has

ENCLOSURE   I                                                ENCLOSURE     I

 Mr. Monte Canfield, Jr.                -2-

issued a report that evaluated the environmental impact of transporta-
tion of radioactive material (NUREG-0034). This evaluation, which was
based in part on the ERDA study to which you referred inyour report,
showed that the risk to the public was very small, even when containers
were subjected to severe crush environments. Nevertheless, the NRC is
in the process of identifying and evaluating alternatives
regulations to assure that the risk to the public is as lowtoasthereasonably
achievable. The possible addition of a crush test is one of the alterna-
tives that will be considered. In view of this evaluation, we believe
it is inappropriate to adopt the GAO recommendation at this tme.
Regarding the GAO comment about the delay in developing decommissioning
criteria for reprocessing plants, there does not appear to be a need
for such criteria at this time in view of the President's policy state-
ment on reprocessing. With respect to the existing commercial plant
(NFS), decommission should be handled on an individual basis.


                                  ...         Eee
                                              V. G   sick
                                        Executive Director of Operations