Answering questions in a video produced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), new chairman Stephen G. Burns says safety and security are the top priorities for the agency, but that being agile and nimble when things change is also important.
Burns said one of the biggest challenges confronting the agency is the level of resources and budget available to accomplish its mission. He said other significant challenges included bringing the post-Fukushima safety program to closure and being ready to meet future licensing or review requests for things like small modular reactors or Generation IV reactors.
“I hark back to my prior experience and know that the staff of the agency, and the leadership of the agency, has always risen to the occasion and faced those challenges—and met them I think. So I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners and working with the staff to address the issues we will have in front of us in this environment,” Burns said.
Burns began his career with the NRC in 1978 when he joined the agency as an attorney through the honors program. He spent more than 30 years with the NRC working in almost every facet of operations, which he believes prepares him for tackling challenges in his new position.
Burns left the NRC in 2012 to take a position with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris. He said that his time there allowed him to see the high regard that the international community has for the NRC. But he also said there is a lot that the NRC can learn from the global nuclear community, especially in terms of their operating experience and lessons learned from source and material problems.
“I think we need to keep engaged in the international community,” Burns said. “We need to continue to share our experiences and to provide leadership when we can for effective nuclear regulation.”
The chairman also spoke about decommissioning rulemaking, suggesting that the current process for handling decommissioning issues could be improved, particularly in light of the number of plants that will face retirement in the coming years.
Burns said that building the agency’s external relationships was important to him, especially with Congress and other agencies that the NRC interacts with.
“We’re entering some challenging times, I think,” Burns said as he noted that the future of nuclear power in the U.S. is filled with uncertainty. With an aging fleet and few plants under construction, it is difficult to predict where the nuclear industry is headed.
—Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)