Nuclear Safety in Perspective
The sharp and largely unjust criticism of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the editorial "Nuclear Safety," June 25, fails to acknowledge the overall success of the NRC over its years of existence. In fact, there has never been a commercial nuclear power plant accident in the US in which radiation was allowed to harm the public - a commendable industrial record attributable to the NRC and to those who operate the plants.
Certainly, any regulatory agency has its weaknesses. However, the NRC commissioners and staff are highly educated and trained to a level unprecedented in government, and are dedicated to safety. These individuals must be given some latitude in interpreting regulations for highly complex systems for which the problems encountered on a day-to-day basis cannot all be anticipated.
Finally, some movement of personnel between the regulator and the regulated can have benefits to safety as well as to efficient, effective, and rational regulation and plant operation. The former plant person brings to the NRC an understanding of the real world of safe plant operation. The retired NRC staff member, when he or she serves as a member of a safety review board, helps the nuclear plant personnel with a better understanding of NRC regulations, practices, and issues.
Although like all organizations the NRC has some weaknesses, and at times overreacts to some situations, it is respected and closely copied by regulatory bodies throughout the world. To maintain both the competence and dedication of its employees and rational regulation will require fair and balanced criticism of its activities, as well as continued public and congressional support.
Forrest J. Remick
State College, Pa.
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission