Regulatory Agency Issues First Document Addressing AI in Nuclear Operations

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants comments on its inaugural Artificial Intelligence Strategic Plan as more machine learning is introduced into the field.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is looking for comments on its first Artificial Intelligence Strategic Plan, set to last from 2023 to 2027 as the agency looks to implement new AI and data science applications into its business processes as well as in external nuclear operations.

This is the first document of its kind issued by the NRC, as the agency does not currently have AI technologies in place. 

“The strategy is aimed to ensure we’re ready to review and evaluate the use of AI in NRC-regulated activities,” NRC staff told Nextgov. 

Much of the guidelines’ focus will work to regulate AI and machine learning-run data science and analysis, as nuclear operations have taken an interest in relying on more autonomous systems to handle work.

Five overarching strategic goals governing the guidelines include: establishing NRC readiness for industry regulation within nuclear operation and AI systems; creating a framework to evaluate the use of AI tools; expanding AI partnerships within the industry; developing an AI-savvy workforce; and developing use cases for AI technology in NRC-sanctioned activities. 

To evaluate and regulate the use of AI in these operations, officials have classified autonomy levels in a hierarchy detailed in the draft document based on a system’s human-machine interaction. 

Siphoned into categories ranging from Level 1, with human decision-making at the forefront of operations, and Level 4, with fully autonomous machines handling decisions, regulatory measures overseen by the NRC will vary depending on where a qualifying nuclear initiative falls in this scale.

“Higher autonomy levels indicate less reliance on human intervention or oversight and, therefore, may require greater regulatory scrutiny of the AI system,” the draft document reads. 

Some of the public feedback the NRC is looking for is input on overall improvements within the plan, new goals, as well as potential challenges of including AI in nuclear operations. The comment period ends on Aug. 19. 

This isn’t the first time the NRC has waded into asking public opinion of AI in nuclear activity. In 2021, the agency asked for public input on future trends regarding AI in the nuclear field, particularly targeting technology implementation and algorithmic procedures.