Detailed cROP Description

The following information is a detailed description of the Construction Reactor Oversight Process. On this page:

Regulatory Framework

The regulatory framework for construction reactor oversight is shown in the diagram below. It is a risk–informed, tiered approach to providing reasonable assurance that the facility has been constructed and will operate in conformity with the license. This framework starts at the highest level, with the NRC's overall mission to license and regulate the Nation's civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety. There are three key strategic performance areas: construction reactor safety, operational readiness, and safeguards programs. Within each strategic performance area are cornerstones that reflect the essential aspects of facility construction. Acceptable performance in the cornerstones, as measured by the risk–informed construction baseline inspection program, provides reasonable assurance that the facility has been constructed and will be operated in conformity with the license and thus, assures the public health and safety. Within this framework, the NRC's construction reactor oversight process provides a means to collect information about licensee performance, assess the information for its significance, and provide for appropriate licensee and NRC response.

Construction Regulatory Oversight Framework


To top of page

The Cornerstones of Construction

The new construction reactor oversight program is, of course, anchored in the NRC's mission to ensure public health and safety in the operation of commercial power plants. That will always remain the agency's overarching responsibility.

The objective is to monitor performance in three broad areas – construction reactor safety (providing reasonable assurance that the plant is constructed in accordance with its design); operational readiness (providing reasonable assurance that the plant will be operated in conformity with its license); and the implementation of adequate security programs for both construction and operations.

To measure plant performance, the oversight program focuses on six specific "cornerstones" which support the safety of plant operations in the three broad strategic areas.

For the construction reactor safety area, the objectives of the cornerstones of safety are defined as follows:

Design/Engineering: The objective of this cornerstone is to ensure that licensee programs and processes are adequately developed and implemented for design and engineering controls.

Procurement/Fabrication: The objective of this cornerstone is to ensure that licensee programs and processes are adequately developed and implemented for procurement and fabrication activities.

Construction/Installation: The objective of this cornerstone is to ensure that licensee programs and processes are adequately developed and implemented to ensure the construction and installation of facilities and structures, systems, and components are in accordance with the design.

Inspection/Testing: The objective of this cornerstone is to ensure that licensee programs and processes are adequately developed and implemented to inspect and test programs, facilities, and structures, systems, and components.

For the operational readiness area, the objective of the cornerstone of safety is defined as follows:

Operational Programs: The objective of this cornerstone is to ensure that licensees adequately develop and implement the operational programs required by a license condition or regulation.

For the safeguards programs area, the objective of the cornerstone of safety is defined as follows:

Security programs for construction inspection and operations: The objective of this cornerstone is to provide assurance that (1) construction activities are not adversely impacted due to fitness–for–duty issues; and (2) the licensee's security programs use a defense–in–depth approach and can protect against the design basis threat of radiological sabotage from internal and external threats.

In addition to the cornerstones, the cROP features three "cross-cutting" areas, so named because they affect and are therefore part of each of the cornerstones. The cross-cutting areas are Human Performance, Problem Identification and Resolution, and Safety Conscious Work Environment. Cross-cutting aspects are defined for each of the cross-cutting areas.

To top of page

Overall Description

An overview of the cROP and how each of the individual processes interacts is shown below. Programs that are either part of or related to the cROP include developing and maintaining programs in the areas of: construction inspection; construction assessment; enforcement; allegations; construction experience; inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria (ITAAC) closure verification; vendor inspection; and the transition to operations. For each cornerstone, NRC develops findings from inspections. Inspection findings are evaluated for safety significance using a construction significance determination process. The resulting information is then assessed and an appropriate NRC response is determined using the guidelines in a construction action matrix, which typically includes supplemental inspections for selected issues. Enforcement action is taken on significant inspection findings, as appropriate. NRC communicates the results of its performance assessment and its inspection plans and other planned actions in publically available correspondence, on its web site, and through public meetings with each licensee.


To top of page

Construction Inspection Program (CIP)

The CIP is an integral part of the NRC's Construction Reactor Oversight Process (cROP) and supports the goals and objectives of that process. The objectives of the CIP are to determine whether or not appropriate quality controls are implemented in the development of applications that will be or have been submitted to the NRC; and to provide reasonable assurance that the facility has been constructed and will be operated in conformity with the license, the provisions of the Act, and the Commission's rules and regulations.

The CIP has four phases. The first and second phases support a licensing decision for an early site permit (ESP) and the combined construction permit and operating license (COL) application. Inspections will initially be conducted to verify effective implementation of the quality assurance (QA) program, as described in the application for an ESP and/or COL, to provide reasonable assurance of the integrity and reliability of the ESP and/or COL data or analyses that would affect the performance of safety–related systems, structures, and components (SSCs). The third and fourth phases support construction activities and the preparations for operation. Prior to and during plant construction, inspections will be conducted to review vendor activities and licensee oversight of these activities. During plant construction, inspections will be conducted to verify satisfactory completion of inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria (ITAAC), adequate development and implementation of construction and operational programs, and to review the transition to power operations.

The construction inspection program includes baseline inspections common to all nuclear plants under construction pursuant to 10 CFR Part 52. The overall objectives of the baseline inspection program are (1) to provide a sufficient basis to support the Commission determination, in accordance with 10 CFR Part 52.103(g), that the acceptance criteria in a combined license have been met; and (2) to develop confidence in the licensee's programmatic controls. To meet the first objective, the baseline program is designed to provide confidence that licensee ITAAC completion and verification processes are effective and provide reasonable assurance that licensee ITAAC completion notifications are sufficient and accurate. To meet the second objective, the baseline program confirms an adequate level of quality in construction products and verifies that operational programs are consistent with the FSAR.

The inspection program will also review the cross–cutting issues that have been identified during the implementation of the construction inspection program. Inspections beyond the baseline will be performed at plants with performance below established thresholds, as assessed through information gained from NRC inspections. Additional inspections may also be performed in response to a specific event or problem which may arise at a plant.

The baseline inspection program delineates specific inspection activities to evaluate aspects of licensee programs and processes and their implementation by identifying findings that are indicative of licensee performance problems. Inspection findings from the baseline program are evaluated for significance and used to assess licensee performance. The baseline inspections are not diagnostic assessments of licensee performance leading to a root cause determination. Those assessments and root cause determinations are intended to be reviewed or independently made during supplemental inspections that are outside the scope of the baseline inspection program. The baseline inspection program is risk informed. The risk informed approach means that inspectable areas were selected based partly on their significance from a risk perspective. Risk has been factored into the baseline inspection program primarily by the ranking of ITAAC. The baseline inspection program consists of inspections in the following areas:

  1. ITAAC–Related Work Inspections.
  2. Construction Program Inspections (including Pre-operational Testing Inspections).
  3. Operational Program Inspections.

Plants whose performance is outside the licensee response band in the Construction Action Matrix will receive plant specific supplemental inspections based on their assessed performance. The depth and breadth of specific supplemental inspections chosen for implementation will depend upon the significance of the identified issues and will be conducted pursuant to the inspection procedure specified in the construction action matrix.

In addition, the staff may conduct reactive inspections in response to non–performance events and issues that occur at the facility. Reactive Inspections include inspections required for allegation response and event follow–up.

The core of the CIP is carried out by construction resident (on–site) inspectors (CRIs) assigned to the site by Region II; at least two inspectors are assigned to each site once significant construction activities are underway. The CRIs will be supplemented with additional personnel from Region II, other regional offices, and Headquarters technical staff, as needed, to provide reasonable assurance that the as–built facility conforms to the conditions of the COL. NRC resources are carefully managed to ensure that construction inspection activities do not in any way detract from the ongoing oversight of operating reactors.

Inspection reports will be issued for all inspections in accordance with the guidance in IMC 0613, "Power Reactor Construction Inspection Reports." The reports will be available to the public on the List of Construction Inspection Reports page and from the Public Document Room at NRC headquarters.

Additional information can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions About the Construction Inspection Program web page.

To top of page

Roles and Responsibilities

Since the formation of construction inspection staff in Region II and NRO in late 2006, the staff has evaluated the roles and responsibilities for the inspections needed to support the successful implementation of the CIP. The "Responsibilities for Inspection Activities" table included below shows the inspections in the approximate order that they will occur, and identifies the organization assigned lead and support responsibility for each type of inspection. A combined effort by the Region II construction inspection staff, the headquarters Construction, Quality, and Vendor staff, the NRO technical staff, and host region staff will be needed to ensure adequate inspection of construction and construction–related activities. However, the scope of the inspection effort associated with each item will vary significantly.

Legend: L = Lead; S = Support
Inspection Focus Region II NRO QVB
NRO Tech
QA program implementation used for development of an ESP application (IMC–2501) S L    
Data collection, analysis and use of data in support of the ESP application (IMC–2501) S S L  
Geotechnical /foundation activity in support of an ESP (IMC–2501) L S S  
Procedures used for Geotechnical /foundation activity in support of a COL (IMC–2502) S L S  
Inspection of Applicant QA Programs related to COLA/LWA licensing review (IMC 2502) S L S  
Implementation of Architect /Engineer QA program including Engineering Design Verification (IMC–2502) S L S  
Inspection of Vendor Programs related to on–site fabrication and testing of components and modules (IMC–2507) S L S  
Inspection of Vendor Programs related to off–site fabrication and testing of components and modules (IMC–2507) S L S  
Inspection of Applicant QA Programs related to off–site fabrication and testing of components and modules (IMC–2502) L S S  
Inspection of Applicant QA Programs related to on–site fabrication and testing of components and modules (IMC–2502) L S S  
Inspection of Licensee Programs related to on–site fabrication and testing of components and modules (IMC–2503) L S S  
Inspection of Licensee Programs related to off–site fabrication and testing of components and modules (IMC–2503) L S S  
The installation and testing of structures, systems, and components (IMC–2503) L   S S
Development and implementation of licensee operational programs (IMC–2504) L S S S
Design Acceptance Criteria Inspections (IMC–2503) L   S  

To top of page

ITAAC Closeout Process, ITAAC Maintenance and Required Notifications

For each ITAAC, in accordance with 10 CFR 52.99(c)(1), the licensee is required to notify the NRC that the prescribed inspections, tests, and analyses have been performed and that the prescribed acceptance criteria have been met. The notification must contain sufficient information to demonstrate that the prescribed inspections, tests, and analyses have been performed and that the prescribed acceptance criteria have been met. This notification is commonly referred to as an ITAAC Closeout Notification (ICN). These notifications facilitate the staff recommendation regarding the 10 CFR 52.103(g) finding on whether all of the acceptance criteria are met.

For each ICN, the NRC conducts an "acceptance review" to determine if the ICN has correct format and references based on the examples of ICNs developed by the NRC and industry. During the ICN review, the staff will review information related to the respective ITAAC, including NRC inspection results, in order to verify that the ITAAC should be closed. As part of the ITAAC closure strategy, the staff plans to ensure that a majority of ITAAC targeted for direct inspection have been inspected prior to closing other ITAAC in the same family that were not directly inspected.

The staff is required, at appropriate intervals during construction, to publish Federal Register notices of successful ITAAC completion. The periodic notices will not only inform the public that the licensee has completed the inspections, tests, and analyses in one or more ITAAC, but also that the staff has completed its review of the involved ITAAC and has found that the licensee successfully completed the ITAAC.

After all ITAAC have been completed, the Director of NRO, in consultation with the appropriate Regional Administrators, will inform the Commission that all ITAAC have been met. NRC inspection results, together with the information submitted by the licensee, will be the foundation of the staff's recommendation to the Commission in support of its finding on whether the acceptance criteria in the COL have been met.

Completion of ITAAC will be accomplished by the licensee over a prolonged period. For some ITAAC, this will mean significant time will elapse between the initial determination that an individual ITAAC is closed and the Commission finding, in accordance with 10 CFR 52.103(g), on whether all of the acceptance criteria are met. An important aspect of the 10 CFR 52.103(g) process is to confirm that the acceptance criteria continue to be met for ITAAC that were completed well before the Commission makes the 10 CFR 52.103(g) finding. The staff recognizes that in such cases, normal maintenance will be needed on SSCs with associated ITAAC or program elements, and such SSCs may also need repairs. The inspection program will confirm, on a sampling basis, that the surveillance and post–maintenance testing performed in this interim period are focused not only on technical specification operability and similar operational concerns, but also on maintaining the validity of ITAAC determinations.

To top of page

Assessing Construction Performance

A construction assessment program for plants being constructed under the 10 CFR Part 52 licensing process was developed by NRO through interactions with its stakeholders. Details regarding implementation of the construction assessment program are contained in IMC 2505, "Periodic Assessment of Construction Inspection Program Results." The inspection staff has developed a procedure, called the "Construction Significance Determination Process," to help inspectors determine the safety significance of inspection findings. This process will be used to evaluate whether a finding is green, white, yellow, or red. This information will be used to determine what further NRC action may be called for. Details regarding the Construction Significance Determination Process are contained in IMC 2519, "Construction Significance Determination Process."

Each calendar quarter, the NRC will review the performance of all nuclear power plants under construction, as measured by the inspection findings. Every six months, this review will be expanded to include planning of inspections for the following 12–month period.

Each year, the final quarterly review will involve a more detailed assessment of plant performance over the previous 12 months and preparation of a performance report, as well as the inspection plan for the following six months. This review will include NRC headquarters staff members, the regional staff, and the construction resident inspectors.

These annual performance reports will be available to the public on the agency's web site, and the NRC staff will hold public meetings with utilities to discuss the previous year's performance at each plant.

In addition, NRC senior management will review the adequacy of agency actions for plants with significant performance problems. The managers will also take a wider view both of the overall industry performance and of the performance of the agency's regulatory programs. The performance of plants under construction requiring heightened agency scrutiny will then be discussed during a public meeting with the NRC Commissioners at the agency's Rockville, Maryland, headquarters.

Additional information can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions About the Construction Assessment Program web page.

To top of page

NRC Response to Construction Performance

The quarterly reviews of plant performance will determine what additional action, if any, the NRC will take if there are signs of declining performance. The process utilizes three levels of heightened regulatory response with NRC regulatory review increasing as plant performance declines. The first two levels of heightened regulatory review are managed by Region II. The next level calls for an agency response, involving senior management attention from both headquarters and Region II.

The NRC's actions for performance below the first level of response may include meetings with the utility, additional inspections, and required reviews and response by the utility. Further declines in performance would warrant stronger action by the NRC, including a civil order or even the suspension of the utility's COL. The NRC response plan is summarized in the following table.

NRC Response Plan or "Construction Action Matrix"
Assessment of Plant Performance
(in order of increasing safety significance)
NRC Response

I. All cornerstone inspection findings GREEN.

  • Cornerstone objectives fully met.
  • Routine inspector and staff interaction.
  • Baseline inspection program.
  • Annual assessment public meeting.

II. No more than two WHITE inputs in different cornerstones.

  • Cornerstone objectives fully met.

Response at Regional level

  • Staff to hold public meeting with utility management.
  • Utility corrective action to address WHITE inputs.
  • NRC inspection followup on WHITE inputs and corrective action.

III. One degraded cornerstone (two WHITE inputs or one YELLOW input or three WHITE inputs in any strategic area.)

  • Cornerstone objectives met with minimal reduction in margin.

Response at Regional level

  • Senior regional management to hold public meeting with utility management.
  • Utility to conduct self–assessment with NRC oversight.
  • Additional inspections focused on cause of degraded performance.

IV. Repetitive degraded cornerstone, multiple degraded cornerstones, or multiple YELLOW inputs, or one RED input.

  • Cornerstone objectives met with longstanding issues or significant reduction in margin.

Response at Agency level

  • Executive Director for Operations to hold public meeting with senior utility management.
  • Utility develops performance improvement plan with NRC oversight.
  • NRC team inspection focused on cause of degraded performance.
  • Demand for Information, Confirmatory Action Letter, or Order.

V. Unacceptable Performance.

  • Unacceptable reduction in margin.

Response at Agency level

  • Plant construction not permitted.
  • Commission meeting with senior utility management.
  • Order to modify, suspend, or revoke license.

To top of page

Corrective Action Program Effectiveness Reviews

A fundamental goal of the NRC's oversight of new construction activities is to establish confidence that licensees (and their contractors) are detecting and correcting problems in a manner that ensures quality and safety are top priorities and that construction activities will be completed in a manner that ensures each plant is constructed in accordance with the design and will operate safely. A key premise of NRC oversight is that weaknesses in a licensee's corrective action program (CAP) will manifest themselves as performance issues that will be identified during the inspection program. Completion of these objectives is accomplished by resident inspectors through the implementation of IP 35007, "Quality Assurance Program Implementation During Construction."

The use of Non–Cited Violations (NCVs) for self–revealing and NRC–identified violations as part of the enforcement process is predicated on a licensee having an adequate CAP into which identified issues are entered and effectively resolved in a timely manner. Because the CAP at construction sites will be new and implemented initially by individuals with limited experience with the new program and because construction will involve program implementation by contractors, the NRC will delay the use of NCVs for self–revealing and NRC–identified violations pending confirmation that the new program is adequate and being effectively implemented. Therefore, prior to or near the beginning of construction for each plant, inspections of the QA program will be conducted to allow the NRC to gather sufficient information to make a timely decision that the licensee has demonstrated its CAP is being implemented in a manner that supports issuing NCVs for self–revealing and NRC–identified violations. After the staff has concluded that a licensee's CAP is adequate, inspections in accordance with IP 35007 will be conducted on a normal schedule.

If a licensee's CAP implementation performance degrades, then it will be necessary to evaluate the extent of the degradation to determine if issuing NCVs remains appropriate. This decision will be made based on the nature of identified issues that indicate a significant degradation of the licensee's CAP. The staff expects that if the identified issues are significant, then the staff will have taken escalated enforcement measures in accordance with the NRC Enforcement Policy for new construction. If the decision is reached to revert to issuing NOVs, then it should be communicated to the licensee as part of the assessment of licensee performance (e.g., included in the assessment letter or in a letter communicating the results of the NRC quarterly assessment review). Following the licensee's corrective actions to restore the effectiveness of their CAP, the process described above to allow the NRC to issue NCVs for self–revealing and NRC–identified violations would need to be repeated as appropriate.

To top of page

Violations of NRC Requirements

Each violation of NRC requirements found during NRC inspections will be evaluated to determine its effect on plant construction. Following successful completion of a Corrective Action Program Effectiveness Review, if the violation is of very low safety significance (green), it will be discussed in the inspection report with no formal enforcement action. The utility is expected to address the violation through its corrective action program. The issue may also be reviewed during future NRC inspections.

If the NRC significance evaluation finds that the violation has higher safety significance (greater than green), a Notice of Violation will be issued. A Notice of Violation may also be issued if the utility fails to correct a violation of low safety significance in a reasonable period of time or if a violation is found to be willful.

The Notice of Violation requires the utility to respond formally to the NRC with its actions to correct the violation and what steps it will take to prevent the violation from occurring again. The agency will then review the utility's actions in a later inspection. Normally, these violations will not be the subject of a fine. However, there may be violations that warrant a fine because of their unusual significance. These violations are likely to be uncommon. Possible examples include significant willful violations and violations with actual consequences.

In addition, some violations will call for the traditional enforcement approach, including the possible issuance of fines. Examples include:

  • Discrimination against workers for raising safety issues or other willful violations.
  • Actions that may adversely affect the NRC's ability to monitor utility activities, including failure to report required information, failure to obtain NRC approval for plant changes, failure to maintain accurate records, or failure to provide the NRC with complete and accurate information.
  • Incidents with actual safety consequences, including radiation exposures above NRC limits, releases of radioactive material above NRC limits, or failure to notify government agencies when emergency response is required.

To top of page

Communications/Making Information Available to the Public

The revised oversight process will provide information on plant construction performance on the NRC's internet web site as well as in its Public Document Room at NRC headquarters.

The staff will also evaluate inspection findings for that quarter to determine their safety significance. This review uses the agency's "Construction Significance Determination Process," to determine the significance of findings.

The assessment of inspection findings will be placed on the NRC web site using the color notation of their significance –– green, white, yellow, or red. The inspection findings which underlie the color notation will also be posted on the web site.

The staff will conduct an annual public assessment meeting to discuss the results of the NRC's assessment of construction performance in the vicinity of the respective plant.

To top of page

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, September 16, 2022