Departmental Representative to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board



A General Description

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) is an independent organization within the executive branch chartered with the responsibility of providing recommendations and advice to the President and the Secretary of Energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy (Department) defense nuclear facilities.  In operation since in October 1989, the Board reviews and evaluates the content and implementation of health and safety standards, as well as other requirements, relating to the design, construction, operation, and decommissioning of the Department's defense nuclear facilities.

The Board consists of five Board members appointed by the President for staggered five year terms. The Board is supported by almost 100 technical and administrative staff personnel and an annual budget of $22 million. The Board's enabling legislation authorizes a staff of up to 150 personnel. The Board headquarters is located in Washington D.C., at 625 Indiana Avenue NW.  Ten Board staff personnel are currently on two-three year rotational assignment at the following DOE sites:  Los Alamos, Livermore, Pantex, Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Savannah River.

Formal written recommendations to the Secretary of Energy are the most powerful mechanism used by the Board for advising the Department with regard to safety. Since its inception the Board has issued 48 recommendations, an average of 3 per year. For each recommendation, the Secretary must provide a response which accepts or rejects the recommendation and, if accepted, provide an implementation plan to resolve the acknowledged issues. To date, the Secretary of Energy has accepted every Board recommendation, though three were accepted with conditions or exceptions described in the Department's acceptance letters. Of the 48 recommendations issued, as of December 2006, 13 are open and the Department continues work on the associated implementation plans. The Board's trend since 1995 has been toward a reduced reliance on formal recommendations and an increased use of discussions with the Department's executive management, public hearings, and written correspondence.

In addition to formal recommendations, the Board has a variety of other authorities and powers for interacting with the Department; these include: 1) conducting public hearings, 2) issuing subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses and production of evidence, 3) formally requesting information or establishing reporting requirements, 4) stationing on-site resident inspectors, and 5) conducting special studies.  The Board and its staff annually conduct about 200 site visits of an average duration of 2-3 days. The Board communicates with the Department through trip reports, requests for information, other written correspondence, and meetings. The Board transmits a total of about 100 pieces of correspondence annually to senior Department management at headquarters and field offices.

The Department and the Board share the common goal of ensuring adequate protection of public and worker health and safety and the environment at defense nuclear facilities. To accomplish this goal, the Department's policy has been to: fully cooperate with the Board; provide access to information necessary for the Board to accomplish its responsibilities; thoroughly consider the recommendations and other safety information provided by the Board; consistently meet commitments to the Board; and conduct interactions with the Board in accordance with the highest professional standards. Experience has shown that the involvement and interaction of the Department's executive management with the Board is essential for resolving safety issues.   The Office of the Departmental Representative to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, reporting to the Deputy Secretary, manages the Department's overall interface with the Board and provides advice and direction for resolving identified safety issues.

The most significant and challenging safety issues being tracked by the Board are:  1) stabilizing excess nuclear material to achieve safe, stable states for interim and long-term storage pending ultimate disposition, 2) systematically implementing a consistent safety management system which integrates safety into management and work practices at all levels so that work can be accomplished while protecting the public, the worker, and the environment, 3) assessing existing facilities, major modifications, and new projects to ensure an adequate confinement strategy is implemented, 4) establishing comprehensive technical requirements for nuclear material packaging, 5) ensuring effective DOE oversight, and 6) integrating safety into design and construction early in the process.  These are long-term issues which will take a dedicated, multi-year effort to successfully resolve.