Recently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved publication of a Plan for Retrospective Analysis of Existing Rules. The impetus behind the Plan is a series of Executive Orders aimed at improving regulatory efficiency. Executive Order 13579 asked independent regulatory agencies to consider how best to promote retrospective analysis of rules that may be ineffective or excessively burdensome, and tasked them with developing a public plan describing periodic reviews of existing significant regulations to determine whether they should be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed. In its Plan, the Commission says that the agency is “committed to maintaining an effective and efficient” regulatory process.

The NRC’s Plan takes credit for many existing initiatives, including the agency’s approach of pursuing risk-informed, performance-based regulations. It also highlights the NRC’s efforts to increase early public participation in the rulemaking process, particularly through concurrent development of guidance documents accompanying proposed rules. But the Plan does little to persuade the public – including the regulated community – that going forward, these initiatives will have teeth and result in any actual regulatory efficiencies.

Perhaps acknowledging this failing, the Commission directed the NRC staff to add to the Plan a process for retrospectively reviewing existing significant rules. The Commission also instructed the staff to incorporate into the final Plan activities that may arise from future action on the issue of cumulative effects of regulation, which the Commission will be evaluating this Fall. As encouraging as these directives sound, the consideration of cumulative effects, particularly in the context of Fukushima-related requirements, will be the litmus test of the Commission’s “commitment” to the issue and the Plan’s actual effectiveness.

The NRC has underway several significant initiatives responding to the lessons-learned from the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident. In March 2012, it imposed orders requiring certain safety enhancements. The NRC is also pursuing rulemakings to address issues such as station blackout and emergency preparedness. The extent to which the Commission will not only consider the impacts of imposing multiple, significant regulatory requirements simultaneously, but also adjust requirements and implementation schedules accordingly, remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the Fukushima-related activities provide ample opportunity for the agency to make good on a “commitment” to an effective and efficient regulatory process. This bears monitoring.