Written by Suriya Ahmad for Nuclear Standards News (Vol. 33, No. 6; Nov-Dec, 2002).
As professionals working in the nuclear energy industry, we are committed to the benefits that nuclear technology provides humankind. The future of nuclear energy depends on maintaining a strong safety record, economics, and effective waste management. So, how does the industry gather and maintain the information needed to meet these goals? It is done, in a large part, through the use of voluntary consensus standards.
Voluntary consensus standards represent the best knowledge of the field. They are written by groups of volunteers who are regarded as the technical experts in the nuclear energy industry. These standards have been in greater demand since 1998, when the Office of Management and Budget released Circular A-119. This document states that government agencies must use voluntary consensus standards instead of government-produced standards unless they happen to be "inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical." OMB Circular A-119 opens many possibilities for ANS and other standards-developing organizations by providing a stimulus for government agencies to help by providing support funding for standards development. For instance, two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission awarded the American Nuclear Society a grant to begin development of a series of ANS standards on External Events Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) Methodology. Furthermore, ANS recently secured another grant to write a third PRA standard on fire safety.
However, funding provided by Government agencies is minimal such that volunteer participation remains essential to the development of all consensus standards. Over the past five years, the amount of participation has declined, largely due to tightened budgets, which reduce the support from the companies that employ the people who are critically needed as volunteers. In order for the industry to improve and implement safe practices, volunteers must be able to communicate their knowledge and the shared experience of tried and tested techniques, specifically because of their leadership in their specialized areas of work. Without these volunteers, consensus standards would not exist and the industry would lose the benefit of this huge storage bank of knowledge and development of safe practices.
Based on data from the industry and a recent ANS survey, there is a strong sense that the resurgence of nuclear power is finally about to occur. Standards volunteers are going to be relied upon to provide that sound basis of technical information that is in current standards and, more importantly, in the new ones that standards developing organizations are now going to have to create. The ANS Nuclear Facility Standards Committee believes that new initiatives will be needed in the areas of gas-cooled reactors, emergency preparedness, and various performance-based and risk-informed standards. One of today's major hot topics is the subject of security at nuclear facilities. Obviously, it will be hard to address security at nuclear facilities, specifically because of safeguards issues and the information about plant security that could be released to the public. But, with this in mind, the industry might be able to respond in the area of emergency preparedness to allow preemptive preparation for consequences that might arise. Companies engaged in nuclear-related work should think about these issues and canvass their personnel for experience and viewpoints, which could then be applied through the support of these employees' involvement in standards development.
What remains important in standards development is the quality that goes into the creation of standards and the groups of dedicated and talented volunteers who make it happen. This article is therefore a plea for nuclear energy companies to appreciate the importance of consensus standards, and the value that they bring to the industry. Companies, in their own best interest, should become more involved in standards development and support their employees' activities as volunteers. This is a very important challenge, and help is needed at ANS. Companies can make a difference by showing their commitment to the benefits that nuclear technology provides for a safer path forward for the industry.
To learn more about the opportunities for volunteers in work being carried out by the ANS Standards Committee, please log onto our website: http://www.new.ans.org/standards/involved/