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Up & Atom

In late September, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) made public a White Paper that it had initially issued internally to the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) in March 2012. The White Paper, titled “NRC and Licensee Actions in Response to New Information from a Third Party,” discusses NRC expectations for how licensees should consider new information received from a third party that may affect a plant’s Final Safety Analysis Report (FSAR). It is our understanding that the White Paper is being released at this time due to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Nonetheless, licensees should be aware of this White Paper and its potential impact should the NRC decide to apply this “guidance.”

The White Paper appears to state an NRC expectation that a licensee will evaluate new information received from a third party if that information relates to the licensee’s plant, irrespective of any regulatory authority possessed by that third party. The NRC appears to be suggesting that the licensee value this information even when the agency has not done so itself (we conjecture that possibly because the NRC would not have the regulatory authority to compel the licensee to perform the review). The White Paper specifically discusses how NRC staff could determine whether a licensee should evaluate the third-party information to decide if it should update, for example, an associated FSAR. It opens with the statement that “[i]n all cases of new third-party information, the appropriate response depends on the potential impact of the information on the facility.” This statement could be read as an NRC expectation that a licensee receiving this undefined information from a third party will at least perform a screening evaluation when current regulations do not require it to do so. The White Paper lists universities, the US Geological Survey, and the Army Corps of Engineers as examples of third parties, but does not restrict the definition of “third party” to only these groups. It appears that the NRC could also consider nuclear reactor owners’ groups or the NEI, EPRI, or INPO to be a source of third-party information.

While at this stage the document appears to be no more than a dated White Paper, the release of the document six years after its initial issuance implies that licensees should at least take notice of it. Considering the limited information provided by the NRC with this issuance, we are not suggesting that the White Paper should be the basis for any licensee to modify plant processes or procedures.