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Consensus Committee 101: A Course in Standards Development

Written by Shawn Coyne-Nalbach for Nuclear Standards News (Vol. 30, No. 5; Sep-Oct, 1999).

A constant in the standards development process at the American Nuclear Society has been the role of Consensus Committees. But, while the existence of Consensus Committees remains unchanged, their number and description has had some evolution over time. Since recent changes have occurred to the face of ANS Consensus Committees, it is perhaps a good time to review their role and to clarify what are the current working committees.

Consensus Committees, who are most notably recognized for their balloting responsibility in standard development, also have other jobs. The ANS standards development process is organized by hierarchies. Of course, the Steering Committee sits at the top, but just below it are the Consensus Committees. These committees provide guidance and oversight to their various subcommittees and, in turn, report to the Standards Steering Committee. This guidance to subcommittees includes the ballot of mature standard drafts, but also includes other activities like assistance in the identification of new projects, participation in the resolution of clarification inquiries and ballot comments, and oversight to insure the completion of projects. Some Consensus Committees also develop their own set of policies. Most Consensus Committees meet regularly and correspond via e-mail throughout the year.

Of course, Consensus Committees do have the responsibility of balloting proposed new, revised, and reaffirmed standards. This is the ballot tally that will be reported to the American National Standards Institute. A ballot requires a full review of the proposed standard, a timely vote response, and a complete set of comments to support the vote when necessary. Due to this important role, Consensus Committees must maintain a balance of interest groups on their committee. Each year their Chair attests to the balance of represented categories. No single category can hold more than one-third of the membership. Additionally, procedures require that organizations with dual committee representation only provide a single vote.

Years ago when nuclear standards were just beginning, the various standards development organizations got together and divided up the pie of nuclear standards, so to speak. This is when Consensus Committees had their conception. Different standards development organizations are responsible for different Consensus Committees, and each Consensus Committee has a defined scope of responsibility. Currently ANS oversees four Consensus Committees. While the scope of ANS standards activity remains unchanged, Consensus Committees have been created and consolidated over time as necessary to reflect industry needs. ANS standards procedures give the Standards Steering Committee (SSC) the power to establish Consensus Committees as needed to cover the scope of SSC standards activity, but specify that each Consensus Committee must have a prescribed scope.

The ANS Consensus Committee N16, Nuclear Criticality Safety, is a small and tight community that has been developing standards for a number of years. The committee works closely with Subcommittee ANS-8 in the development of timely standards for the control of criticality risks associated with processing fissionable materials outside reactors. Their scope is:

To develop standards for determining the potential for nuclear criticality of fissile material outside reactors, for the prevention of accidental criticality, and for coping with accidents should they occur.

As a general practice, unanimous approval is expected to result from each ballot and a lack of unanimity is rare. This long term (almost forty years) relationship has resulted in a body of 15 consensus documents, nearly all of which are accepted and endorsed by the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These standards also enjoy broad acceptance worldwide.

N17, the ANS Consensus Committee covering Research Reactors, Reactor Physics, Radiation Shielding, and Computational Methods, has the following scope:

To develop standards for the location, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of all nuclear reactors for training and research, both as mechanisms for investigating reactors per se and as sources of radiation, and excluding reactors designed for the production of electrical energy; standards for the location, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of critical facilities; standards for calculational methods and computer codes for use in nuclear-reactor and reactor-physics calculations, including shielding. Input into calculations and codes, such as nuclear cross sections, are included in this scope.

This committee manages six subcommitees:

  • ANS-1, Conduct of Critical Experiments
  • ANS-6, Radiation Protection and Shielding
  • ANS-10, Mathematics and Computation
  • ANS-14, Fast Pulse Reactors
  • ANS-15, Operation of Research Reactors
  • ANS-19, Physics of Reactor Design

At present, this committee gives oversight to 30 current standards and an even larger number of working groups.

A recent change to the roster of ANS Consensus Committees was the consolidation of two committees. Formerly, NUPPSCO (the Nuclear Power Plant Standards Committee) and N48 (the Radioactive Waste Management Committee) developed standards independently of one another.

In 1996 discussions began regarding the consolidation of the two Consensus Committees for the purpose of more efficient standards development and maintenance. By 1998 NUPPSCO and the SSC had approved the consolidation. The consolidated committee would have a new name, the NFSC (Nuclear Facilities Standards Committee), and a modified scope to reflect the broadened standards development activity:

The Nuclear Facilities Standards Committee is responsible for the preparation and maintenance of standards associated with nuclear facilities, including radioactive waste management activities. The Committee's standards address siting, design, and operation of nuclear facilities as well as remediation and restoration of these sites. Excluded from this scope are standards for nuclear criticality safety, and training and research reactor facilities.

Recognizing that the consolidation would require more than merely lumping all the standards under one Consensus Committee umbrella, the NFSC tasked a small group of individuals with the job of suggesting a new organization structure for the projects under the NFSC. This group consisted of former NUPPSCO and N48 members. What emerged from these discussions was a set of eight subcommittees, arranged topically, that gave new organization and structure to former NUPPSCO projects and former N48 projects. The subcommittees include the following:

  • Nuclear Power Plant Design Criteria & Operations
  • Nuclear Power System Level Design Standards
  • Decommissioning and Site Remediation
  • Analysis Standards
  • Siting
  • Emergency Planning
  • Fuel, Fuel Containment and Storage
  • Non-Power Facilities, Radioactive Waste Containment and Storage

This reorganization process is still in its formative stages, but holds many possibilities for future efficient standards maintenance and development.

Finally, ANS has recently added a new Consensus Committee. In April of this year the SSC voted to create the Risk Informed Standards Consensus Committee (RISC). The primary purpose of this committee is to oversee the development of new risk-informed standards that the industry now seeks. Its scope, which will be approved by the committee in August, is as follows:

The American Nuclear Society Risk Informed Standards Consensus Committee is responsible for the development and maintenance of standards that establish safety and risk criteria and methods for probabilistic analysis, risk assessment and risk management. These criteria and methods are applicable to design, development, construction, operation, decontamination and decommissioning, waste management, and environmental restoration for nuclear facilities.

The RISC also reviews standards being developed or published by other organizations on related topics to help ensure consistency and needed corrections and to avoid duplication with other standards.

This committee's first meeting took place in Washington, DC in August of this year. The committee's membership reflects a broad base of expertise with representation from all areas of the industry.

These four committees oversee the 100+ current standards of ANS and the countless additional standard projects. While each committee handles a different niche of the industry, they all work together to cover the scope of the ANS SSC's standards activity. Their scopes and makeup may have changed over the years, but their organizational role in the standards development process remains as critical as it was at the very start.

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