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At the end of January, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a complete rewrite of Inspection Manual Chapter (IMC) 1240 on unescorted access authorization for NRC employees and contractors. The most major change from the prior version is that the NRC will no longer issue letters to licensees requesting unescorted access for NRC employees. Instead, the NRC will implement and maintain a Site Access List that identifies NRC employees and contractors whom the NRC has certified for unescorted access. Consistent with this change, the revised inspection manual chapter provides information on how the NRC will determine the suitability of its employees and contractors for unescorted access. The revisions also change how behavioral observation and fitness for duty programs apply to NRC employees and contractors and how they should be reported.

Under the prior version of IMC 1240, regional administrator designees issued letters to power reactor licensees requesting unescorted access for NRC and contractor inspectors to “protected and vital areas.” According to the revised IMC 1240, the NRC will implement, maintain, and distribute a Site Access List of NRC employees and contractors whom the NRC has certified for unescorted access. The Site Access List will provide the name, NRC badge number (or other recognized federal government agency badge number), clearance, and training expiration date for all NRC employees and contractors certified for access to NRC licensed facilities. Licensed facilities include commercial power reactors, but IMC 1240 has been expanded to include selected fuel-cycle facilities and independent spent-fuel storage installations.

The Site Access List will be maintained by regional office site access coordinators who will provide the list to facility licensees. The regional office site access coordinators will also provide licensees with immediate updates to the Site Access List. If an NRC representative visits a site but is not included on the Site Access List because his or her training is not current, the NRC representative must complete any general training required by the licensee and then be escorted while onsite.

To obtain NRC approval for unescorted access for the Site Access List, IMC 1240 requires that NRC employees and contractors submit to a background investigation and that background investigations for government-issued security clearances are equivalent to the investigation required by 10 CFR § 73.56(d). This is unchanged from the prior version. But IMC 1240 has been changed to include a provision for NRC contractors, which was not part of the prior version. IMC 1240 now states that contractors without a valid security clearance can receive unescorted access under one of the provisions of MD 12.3, Section I.D.2, so long as the provision is in the contract. The Division of Facilities and Security will then determine the contractor’s eligibility for interim or final approval for unescorted access.

IMC 1240 also changes how licensees should deal with concerns about NRC employees or contractors under the licensee’s behavioral observation program. IMC 1240 states that licensees should report any concerns of aberrant behavior by NRC employees or contractors to the applicable regional administrator, deputy regional administrator, or Office of Inspector General, per Management Directive 8.17. Additionally, if a licensee or other entity has a reasonable belief that an NRC employee or contractor may be under the influence of any substance or is otherwise unfit for duty, the licensee cannot deny access but must escort the individual instead. The licensee must also immediately notify the appropriate regional administrator about any reasonable belief that an NRC employee or contractor is unfit for duty. The NRC will then reassess the reported individual’s certification for unescorted access.

IMC 1240 became effective as of January 28. We will continue to monitor developments in this area.