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Nuclear Science & Technology Department

Risk Analysis Group

Assessing Potential Hazards in Complex Systems

Since the mid-1980s, a core group of Brookhaven scientists has been carrying out risk and reliability assessments of commercial nuclear power plants and other complex technological systems.  These scientists – now called the Risk Analysis Group -- have also conducted reviews of risk assessments performed by others, such as utilities, to provide objective assessments to government regulators. Historically, the largest sponsor and customer of the group has been the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) but staff members have also performed risk analyses for other domestic agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Aviation Administration, and the New York State Department of Transportation.  Customers have also included several foreign regulatory agencies, and group members have provided assistance to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Brookhaven staff members were involved in a number of US programs to enhance the safety of power reactors in member states of the former Soviet Union. While principally focused on domestic and foreign nuclear power plants, the group examined risks in such diverse areas as aircraft performance, space shuttle components, chemical spills and electrical reliability.  

Diverse Applications of Risk Analysis and Management in Nuclear Facilities

Group members are very familiar with risk assessments of operating US commercial reactors.  In the past, staff members have carried out reviews for the NRC of vulnerability assessments conducted by every operating commercial nuclear power plant in the US, and the group continues to assist the NRC to address new challenges in the area of probabilistic risk assessment of light water reactors (LWR).  An example is the development of risk models of digital systems, particularly instrument and control systems, used in the operation and accident response in commercial nuclear reactors.  For future advanced reactor concepts, especially non-LWR reactors, the group has developed high-level decision criteria on which to base regulations  

The group is very active in supporting NRC in risk-informing the regulations governing nuclear facilities. By including risk information in the regulations, they become not only more effective but also more efficient. The NRC was already accelerating its effort to increase risk information in its regulatory framework when the Fukushima accident added extra urgency to this effort. The Risk and Reliability Analysis Group is a leading resource for the NRC in the risk-informing area.

With the desire by the nuclear industry and regulators to assure safe operation of not just nuclear reactors but other related facilities, the group is also supporting risk management efforts related to reprocessing facilities, waste treatment facilities, and byproduct material uses.  Group members are very much involved in the development and updating of risk assessment standards for reactors and other nuclear facilities.

In the coming years, important areas for the group will be increasing the role of risk management in the NRC's regulatory framework, continued development of risk models of digital systems, etc.

Systems Engineering group

Risk Analysis Group