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Up & Atom

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently released a draft report from the agency’s Working Group on Reactor Decommissioning Financial Assurance (DFA). Comments on the draft report are due by April 21, 2020.

The agency assembled the working group in 2019 to examine the implications of an increasing trend in the use of third-party business models for decommissioning nuclear power plants. The working group, composed of NRC personnel from the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, Nuclear Reactor Regulation, Regional Offices, and the Office of the General Counsel, undertook a comprehensive review of current DFA requirements to identify potential regulatory gaps or policy issues and recommend potential program enhancements.

The draft report concludes that current DFA requirements continue to provide the means for NRC Staff to determine whether there is reasonable assurance of sufficient funding for reactor decommissioning. The report does not articulate any particular problem or weakness in need of a regulatory solution. Nevertheless, the draft report recommends certain “enhancements” to NRC reactor DFA guidance and procedures implementing the licensing and oversight processes "to improve program effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency," including the following:

  1. Clarifying oversight of decommissioning trust fund (DTF) expenditures
  2. Periodic cost-baselining
  3. Developing 30-day notification guidance
  4. Revising inspection procedures
  5. Developing a reactor DFA “spot-check” program
  6. Establishing a DFA training program for NRC personnel
  7. Clarifying the triggers for updates to the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR)
  8. Developing guidance on comparing a plant’s DTF “formula amount” in the regulations to its site-specific decommissioning cost estimate (SSCE)
  9. Further consideration of possible guidance on spent fuel management funding

The draft report describes the bases for these recommendations, but otherwise provides no specifics on the intended “enhancements.” Instead, the working group recommended that more granular details be considered through other avenues, including updates to various existing guidance documents, such as LIC-205, Inspection Procedure 71801, and Regulatory Guide 1.159.

The NRC held a public meeting on April 14, 2020, to discuss the draft report and obtain stakeholder feedback on any potential gaps or factual errors. However, the vast majority of the public commenters raised issues beyond the scope of the meeting. See the NRC Staff's brief presentation slides.

Comments on the draft report are due by April 21, 2020, and may be emailed to theodore.smith@nrc.gov. In light of the significant uptick in activism related to plant decommissioning, and potential misuse of staff positions in ways unforeseen today, this is an important opportunity for industry comment. The working group plans to issue the final report next month.

Morgan Lewis will continue to monitor further developments in this area and provide updates on any additional happenings related to DFA requirements.