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The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) issued a letter on April 14 to provide guidance on reactor operator licensing requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Specifically, the letter provides “guidance for seeking exemptions from certain requalification program requirements,” including requalification program scheduling, licensed operator active status for research and test reactors, and delays in completion of medical examinations.

Requalification Program Requirements

For licensees whose schedules would require requalification tests and exams to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and because those tests and examinations require operators to be in close proximity to one another, the NRC will consider exemption requests from the following requirements:

  • 10 CFR 55.59(c)(1), which requires licensees to conduct requalification programs for “a continuous period not to exceed two years”
  • 10 CFR 55.59(a)(1), which requires operators to successfully complete the requalification program
  • 10 CFR 55.59(a)(2), which requires operators to pass “a comprehensive requalification written examination and an annual operating test”

Medical Requirements

Because regulatory medical examinations require operators and physicians to be in close proximity to each other, the NRC will consider exemptions requests from the following requirements:

  • 10 CFR 55.21 and 10 CFR 55.53(i), which require biennial medical examinations for operators
  • 10 CFR 55.57(a)(6), which requires the facility licensee to certify that operators applying for license renewal are medically fit

Licensed Operator Active Status for Research and Test Reactors

Because research and test reactors might cease operations during the pandemic, licensees at these facilities may apply for exemption from 10 CFR 55.53(e), which requires operators to actively perform operator work to remain in active status.

Submitting Exemption Requests

The NRC letter specifies the information that must be contained in each exemption request to receive expedited review. Requests that do not contain the specified information will not receive expedited review. The letter specifies that licensees should contact their facility’s NRC project manager before submission if they want an expedited review.

The letter states that it “does not preclude requests for exemptions that take a different approach or present different rationales or proposed end dates.” For such alternatives, however, the NRC “cannot guarantee expedited consideration.”

Licensees should follow the requirements in 10 CFR 55.5 to submit their requests and “should make every effort to submit timely exemption requests.” The NRC will consider requests on a case-by-case basis, and will either issue a written decision, or, if pressed for time, a verbal decision followed by a written confirmation.

If granted, the exemptions will be valid until the earlier of 90 days after the end of the pandemic, or December 31, 2020.

Additional Insights for Non-Power Reactors

During an informational teleconference between the NRR Division of Advanced Reactors and Non-Power Production and Utilization Facilities (DANU) and the National Organization of Test, Research, and Training Reactors (TRTR) on April 8, the NRC provided clarification on some of the provisions also discussed in the April 14 letter. Among other things, the NRC said that distance learning would be acceptable both for initial and requalification training, as long as it is acceptable under the individual licensee’s training plan. It said that licensees should inform the NRC “well in advance” if they expect to be in a state of noncompliance so that the NRC does not issue a violation prior to the licensee submitting an exemption request. Finally, the NRC said that non-power reactor licensees could depend upon a determination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the end of the pandemic to start the 90-day clock for exemption validity.

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