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The NRC issued temporary Staff guidance intended to help Staff review and process requests for regulatory relief from fuel facilities on April 21. Although intended for NRC Staff, the guidance provides insights into the process licensees should follow when submitting requests for relief and the information they should anticipate including.

Importantly, the guidance states that licensees should notify the NRC as soon as they “anticipate that they will be unable to comply with a regulatory requirement or license condition.” The Staff will consider requests for relief on a case-by-case basis, and if the licensee meets the requirements for an exemption, the Staff will issue a written determination for a specific period.

If licensees anticipate needing additional time to come into compliance, they can request an extension by updating their initial request to the NRC. The Staff may develop “a streamlined process for pre-identified requests for regulatory relief that are consistent with maintaining safety and security” if multiple licensees anticipate facing the same noncompliance, the way it has for other categories of licensees.

Although licensees are expected to submit their requests in writing, they can contact their project manager, their licensing point of contact or branch chief, or the NRC Headquarters Emergency Operations Center at +1.301.816.5100 for emergency relief. This method, however, “is only to address unanticipated temporary situations of potential noncompliance.”

When drafting written exemption requests, licensees are expected to consult the guidance in Regulatory Issue Summary 2010-04, Monitoring the Status of Regulated Activities During a Pandemic, as well as the April 7 letter from the NMSS office director (which we previously reported on). Licensees should ensure that the organization or official submitting the exemption request is the one who “normally reviews safety or security issues at the facility,” such as the licensing manager or the security manager. They should also ensure that the exemption request is legally authorized. If licensees do not satisfy both of these criteria, the Staff will stop the review process until the licensee submits a request “under the appropriate authority.”

To decide which internal review process to use, the Staff will consider the timing of the licensee’s request; that is, when the licensee will become noncompliant:

  1. If the licensee has at least two weeks before becoming noncompliant, the Staff will use the standard licensing process.
  2. If the licensee will become noncompliant within 48 hours to two weeks, the Staff will use an expedited licensing process (docketed email, teleconferences).
  3. If the licensee will become noncompliant in less than 48 hours, the Staff will consider enforcement discretion, utilize teleconferences to document intake information, and then use the standard licensing process. In this circumstance, the licensee should be prepared to explain why it failed to document the noncompliance sooner.

Next, the Staff will contact licensees for an intake interview. Licensees should be able to provide the following information:

  1. The specific regulatory requirement, NRC order provision, license condition, or commitment in a licensing basis document from which the licensee is requesting relief, including the details surrounding the request for relief and how long the licensee will need relief.
  2. The basis for the relief requested, including the impact of the relief on the public and facility workers, among others; the potential safety and/or security issues associated with deviating from normal operations; additional actions the licensee will take to provide a comparable level of safety and/or security; and why the relief is in the public interest.
  3. The licensee’s plan to return to normal operation, including a proposed course of action to resolve the situation and terminate the relief; how the licensee will maintain documentation of lapsed functions/actions; and how the lapsed functions/actions will be resolved before normal operations resume.

Finally, the Staff will determine the regulatory action needed for the relief requested, based on the following four categories:

  1. Relief from a specific regulatory requirement, which would require an exemption documented in a license condition, issued via an amendment to the license.
  2. Relief from the provisions of an NRC order, which would require good cause to relax (specific to the order).
  3. Relief from a license condition, which would require a revised or new license condition, issued via a license amendment.
  4. Relief from commitments in a licensing basis document, which should be captured explicitly in license conditions.

To date, the Staff has granted exemption requests to three fuel-cycle facilities. The Staff has made those requests and the Staff’s determinations publicly available. It has also made available online submissions for requests for relief.

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