The US Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy recently issued an update to its “road map for implementing a consent-based siting process” to site one or more federal interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel. The 2023 update retains most of the features of the prior 2017 version, but further clarifies the focus of DOE’s spent fuel siting efforts, incorporates some changes and updates, and provides the current aspirational timelines for the key stages of the effort.
KEY TRENDS IN LAW AND POLICY REGARDING
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
The Nine Mile Point nuclear power station in Oswego, New York began producing hydrogen in March 2023 as part of a demonstration project sponsored by the US Department of Energy. Although Nine Mile Point produced hydrogen solely for internal use, the project validates that reliable and emission-free nuclear energy can be used to produce clean-burning hydrogen.
NRC Office of Investigations FY 2022 Annual Report Shows Jump for Reactors, Decrease for Material Licensees
The NRC’s Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Annual Report Fiscal Year 2022 summarizing its activities from October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022. According to the annual report, OI opened 70 new cases in FY 2022, compared to 65 in FY 2021—an 8% increase. In contrast, it closed only 67 cases, compared to 96 in FY 2021—a 30% decrease.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires nuclear power reactor licensees to maintain decommissioning cost estimates and to adjust those estimates periodically to account for inflation and other matters, pursuant to Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) 50.75, “Reporting and Recordkeeping for Decommissioning Planning.” These periodic updates must consider various factors, including: (1) increased labor costs; (2) increased energy costs; and (3) increased waste burial costs.
After 13 years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued revised guidance for cybersecurity programs for nuclear power reactors. All nuclear power reactor owners must review the NRC’s latest guidance and confirm their cybersecurity programs are in compliance.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) published on January 31 two secretarial determinations in the Federal Register that change the countries that are eligible for general authorizations under 10 CFR Part 810 (Part 810). The first secretarial determination changed the status of Mexico to a fully generally authorized destination, while the second removed Colombia and Egypt from the list of countries eligible for a general authorization.
Commission Approves Draft Rule to Update Environmental Regulations and GEIS for Subsequent License Renewal
The NRC commissioners unanimously approved on January 23, 2023 the publication of a proposed rule to update the NRC’s environmental regulations in Part 51 and issue a draft update to the NRC’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (the GEIS) to encompass both initial and subsequent license renewal (SLR). This rulemaking, when complete, will resolve the dispute about whether 10 CFR 51.53(c)(3) and the GEIS apply to SLR, and will allow the environmental review of pending SLR applications that rely on the GEIS to resume. The proposed rule will soon be published in the Federal Register to allow for public comments on the proposed rule and draft GEIS.
The NRC recently issued a final rule in the Federal Register, along with a corresponding update to its Enforcement Policy, that updated the maximum amounts of civil monetary penalties it can impose for violations. Because these amounts are adjusted annually for inflation, the maximum civil penalties jumped for the second year in a row, reflecting the continued inflationary environment in the broader economy.
In a recent LawFlash, lawyers Alex Polonsky and Grant Eskelsen discuss the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) final rule imposing financial penalties for unintentional violations of 10 CFR Part 810. The rule represents a major change in how the DOE encourages and enforces compliance with Part 810.
NRC Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Alternatives to Credit Ratings for Decommissioning Financial Assurance
The NRC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) proposing a rule, “Alternatives to the Use of Credit Ratings,” that would amend its decommissioning financial assurance mechanisms in 10 CFR Part 30.