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Inconsistent Oversight at Nation's Nuclear Plants

A new study released on October 17 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls into question the consistency and effectiveness of our country’s oversight of nuclear power plants.

The government agency in charge of regulating and overseeing the plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), was found to have extremely inconsistent numbers of violations between the country’s four regions. The Southeast region, for example, has the most nuclear reactors but had the fewest reported violations. The study took into account data from 2000 to 2012.

According to an article on, the GAO report found that the high variation in violations across the U.S. is not a result of the reactors themselves but rather inconsistent rules and guidelines.

It theorized that a reason for this may be that the reactors with the lower-level violations are given less scrutiny. Common corporate ownership of multiple plants may also be a factor, said the GAO report. It went on to say that the real reasons aren’t clear because the NRC has never conducted a thorough study of them. At this time, the “NRC cannot ensure that oversight efforts are objective and consistent,” GAO auditors concluded.

Another concern, raised by former NRC whistleblower Paul Blanch, is that NRC inspectors and regional staff receive inconsistent training. In an AP article, he said, “[he believes] the oversight process is totally arbitrary.”

The GAO study was conducted after U.S. senators raised concerns about the safety of domestic nuclear plants following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

Oversight irregularity is just one problem ailing our nation’s nuclear power plants.  The Project On Government Oversight has recently called attention to the lack of security protecting the extremely dangerous and valuable materials. Poor management and planning are troubling as well: a uranium processing facility planned by the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration has been in the works since 2005, but has ballooned in cost from an estimated $600 million to $11 billion. The opening date has been pushed back 20 years from 2018 to 2038.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Energy and Natural Resources

Related Content: Nuclear Power

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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