The commissioners from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a joint meeting to discuss grid reliability and cybersecurity, including issues such as nuclear new build that factor into power availability. Both NRC and FERC staff provided presentations on the activities of both agencies to promote a stable, resilient, and secure grid, and a representative from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) addressed grid reliability.
In his opening remarks, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre noted that joint meetings “help [both NRC and FERC] exchange information on critical areas of interest to both commissions and to the various stakeholders within our respective spaces to enable both commissions to do a better job for the American people and to better carry out their missions” and referenced the recently-executed joint FERC/NRC Memorandum of Understanding on the subject of critical energy infrastructure information.
The Regulation of Existing Reactors
The Deputy Director of the Division of Engineering in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation at the NRC addressed several topics of interest to the combined commissions. The presentation consisted of four major sections, as discussed below.
NRC’s Interactions with FERC and NERC Regarding Grid Reliability
The presenter noted that the August 14, 2003, blackout in the northeastern United States, during which more than 500 generating units—including nine nuclear units—shut down, was one of the largest power outages in US history. She added that this blackout highlighted the need for formal agreements between NRC and FERC to ensure sufficient communications and coordination to respond to such events and provided an overview of those agreements.
The presenter described the current status of the NRC’s review and approval of first license renewal applications. She noted that the NRC has issued renewed licenses for all but 13 nuclear units, that the NRC is currently reviewing license renewal applications for five of those 13 units, and that the NRC understands that the licensees for at least another three of those 13 units will apply for license renewal. The presenter observed that by the end of 2018, 50 nuclear units will have been operating in excess of the original 40-year license period, and that by 2030, the average age of the currently operating nuclear fleet will be over 50 years.
Subsequent License Renewal
The presenter described the current status of the NRC’s review of subsequent license renewal (SLR) applications. She noted that the NRC is currently reviewing one such application and that the NRC is anticipating the receipt of three additional applications before 2021. She also noted that NRC is currently working with industry, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to evaluate and develop approaches that address any unique aging issues for SLR.
The presenter articulated several of the factors that have contributed to the recent closure and decommissioning of nuclear units. She noted that the Commission is now reviewing a draft regulation intended to streamline certain regulatory aspects of the decommissioning process, and that NRC believes that the Commission will vote on the proposed final rule in the fall of 2019.
Nuclear New Build
In addition, the Deputy Director of the Division of Licensing, Siting, and Environmental Analysis in the Office of New Reactors at the NRC summarized the status of nuclear new-build in the United States. The presenter stated that the NRC has approved design certifications for five reactor designs and that the Staff is now reviewing three new design certification applications for two large light water reactors and the NuScale small modular reactor (SMR) design. She noted that the NRC has issued 14 licenses for large light water reactors (including both early site permits and combined licenses) since 2007 and that construction of two units is now underway. She observed that the NRC’s licensing focus is now shifting away from large light water reactors and toward light water SMRs and non-light water advanced reactors. The presenter noted that the NRC docketed its first design certification application for an SMR in March 2017 and that the NRC is now reviewing an application from the Tennessee Valley Authority for an early site permit (ESP) for SMRs at the Clinch River nuclear site in Tennessee.
Finally, the Director of the Division of Physical & Cyber Security Policy in the Office of Nuclear Security & Incident Response at NRC provided a presentation on cybersecurity addressing the manner in which the NRC and licensees have implemented the NRC’s cybersecurity regulations and identified activities that the NRC is undertaking, and will continue to undertake regarding cybersecurity.
For an overview of presentations provided by NRC Staff, please see here.
A webcast of the joint meeting is available here.