Up & Atom

With the change of a single number, Congress has provided continued support for the nuclear power industry by renewing the Price-Anderson Act. Congress amended Section 170 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (commonly known as the Price-Anderson Act or PAA) by changing its expiration date to December 31, 2065 from December 31, 2025. Congress also increased fourfold the liability coverage for DOE contractors for a nuclear incident occurring outside the United States to $2 billion from $500 million. Finally, Congress revised the definition of “nuclear incident” to remove requirements for the underlying nuclear material.
Leaders from 34 countries met in Brussels, Belgium on March 21 for the first Nuclear Energy Summit. The purpose of the summit was to provide participating governments the opportunity to share their vision and plans for using nuclear power to achieve net-zero emissions and promote sustainable development.
The NRC’s Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Annual Report for fiscal year 2023, summarizing its activities from October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023. According to the annual report, OI opened 82 new cases in FY 2023 compared to 70 in FY 2022, a 17% increase. It also closed 72 cases in 2023 compared to 67 in FY 2022, a 7.5% increase.
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program published for public comment a draft protocol for reassessing the noncancer health effects of natural and depleted uranium via oral ingestion on February 14, 2024. The reassessment will examine whether newly available literature review or scientific analysis data could be considered for updating current hazards or whether there are additional health hazards related to uranium exposure.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a proposed rule to amend the licensing, inspection, special project, and annual fees charged to applicants and licensees. The proposed amendments are necessary under the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) to ensure the NRC recovers approximately its full annual budget, except funds for specific excluded activities. Among other changes, the NRC proposes decreasing the annual fee for the operating power reactors fee class by $4,000—approximately 0.07%—from $5.492 million in fiscal year 2023 to $5.488 million.
The Commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conducted a biennial joint meeting on January 25, 2024. The biennial meetings allow the Commissioners to hear presentations from industry experts, learn about the challenges facing the energy industry, and determine how the commissions can assist each other based on their respective regulatory authorities.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has published a final rule increasing civil monetary penalties (CMPs) for unintentional violations of 10 CFR Part 810 (Part 810). The rule, which took effect on January 9, 2024, increases the maximum CMP from $120,816 to $124,732 per violation per day. The increased penalty aligns with DOE’s mandate to annually adjust CMPs for inflation.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently published its annual vendor newsletter, The Vendor Times, documenting findings of NRC vendor inspection staff and lessons learned related to the vendor inspection program. The newsletter follows the NRC’s November 20 vendor inspection program self-assessment for fiscal year 2023. Through these two issuances, the NRC noted an increase in enforcement findings and indicated that it will focus on 10 CFR Part 21 and supplier oversight compliance during future inspections.
The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) recently endorsed the NRC Staff’s proposed alternative option for licensing microreactors in a letter submitted to NRC Chairman Christopher Hanson. In brief, the licensing option endorsed by ACRS would allow a factory-fabricated microreactor to be loaded with fuel having features to preclude criticality and undergo operational testing at the factory before being transported to an installation site. If approved by the Commission, such an approach would create a lower regulatory burden commensurate with the anticipated decreased potential safety hazards posed by microreactors.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) and request for comments in the Federal Register proposing a comprehensive revision of the Department of Energy Acquisition Regulation (DEAR). DOE’s proposal strives to update and streamline the DEAR’s policies, procedures, provisions, and clauses. DOE invites the public to submit written comments regarding this NOPR through the Federal eRulemaking Portal by no later than December 26, 2023.