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Up & Atom

The NRC issued its final Temporary Staff Guidance (Final Guidance) on April 6 on its review procedures for coronavirus (COVID-19)-related Part 26 exemption requests. The NRC previously issued a draft of this guidance on April 1 and also discussed the draft during a teleconference with the industry on April 2, which we reported on.

The Final Guidance follows the NRC’s March 28 letter to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) notifying licensees of the process for requesting relief from the work-hour controls in Part 26 due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. We reported on this announcement in a previous blog and discussed the NRC’s required content for an exemption request and the procedures for licensees to request an exemption. Since that report, the NRC issued an addendum on April 8, clarifying that the March 28 letter does not apply to fuel facilities and correcting a reference to the behavioral observation regulation for operating reactors.

Final Temporary Staff Guidance

The Final Guidance provides NRC Nuclear Reactor Regulation staff members with the basic framework for quickly processing exemption requests from Part 50 licensees. Using this framework, the NRC anticipates reviewing an exemption request and issuing a written determination to the licensee within three days of receipt. This expedited review process only applies to exemption requests that meet the criteria in the NRC’s March 28 letter, or that commit to more stringent requirements. The NRC stated that the expedited process does not apply to licensee exemption requests that do not follow the Final Guidance criteria, and thus, the time for Staff review and approval of nonconforming requests will likely result in a longer review and approval process.

The Final Guidance largely mirrors the draft, with the addition of information that appeared in the NRC’s March 28 letter but not the draft guidance. In particular, the Final Guidance makes clear that licensees must continue to meet all other fitness-for-duty requirements even if the NRC grants an exemption to the work-hour controls. In other words, these requirements are not available for an exemption. These specific requirements are:

Maintaining these requirements during an exemption period will thus ensure that worker impairments caused by fatigue (or other issues) continue to be identified and addressed.

Second, the Final Guidance states that if the COVID-19 condition does not improve, and a licensee must seek another exemption, the staff will consider the request “taking into account the hours worked under the initial exemption.” This statement suggests that NRC will review subsequent exemption requests more closely to prevent cumulative worker fatigue.

We are aware that at least one licensee has requested and received an exemption request based on the Final Guidance. We will continue to monitor this issue for any updates.

NRC Publishes Frequently Asked Questions On Part 26 Exemptions

The NRC also recently published a list of frequently asked questions about Part 26 work-hour control exemptions to answer common questions about the exemptions and the process for requesting one.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.