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The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Staff hosted a public meeting via teleconference on April 29 to discuss available regulatory relief pathways from fire protection requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE). The meeting focused on relief from three specific requirements of concern to the commercial nuclear reactor industry: (1) annual physicals for fire brigade members, (2) quarterly fire brigade drills, and (3) annual live firefighting training.

The specific regulations at issue are located in 10 CFR 50.48(c) (incorporating the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 805 by reference); Section III.H of Appendix R to 10 CFR 50 (requiring annual physicals for members of the fire brigade); Section III.I.3.b of Appendix R to 10 CFR 50 (requiring fire brigade members to participate in quarterly drills); and Section III.I.2 of Appendix R to 10 CFR 50 (requiring fire brigade members to participate in annual live fire training).

The Staff said it will consider relief requests on a case-by-case basis by exemption or by license amendment, depending upon whether the request seeks relief from a regulation or license condition. Even if the Staff grants relief, however, general safety objectives inherent in the fire protection program must be upheld.

Based on talking points prepared in advance of the meeting, the NRC also outlined the criteria licensees should be able to satisfy when submitting exemption requests, discussed below. In so doing, the Staff emphasized that these criteria are prerequisites for receiving an expedited review—meeting them does not result in an automatic grant of relief.

Guidance for Relief Requests in General

When submitting requests for relief from either the annual physical requirement, the quarterly drill requirement, or the annual live fire training requirement, licensees should include the following:

  • Information to support the Staff’s ability to find supporting documents, including ADAMS accession numbers
  • A statement that the licensee cannot meet the relevant requirement because it would require workers to act contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for responding to the COVID-19 PHE
  • A statement that the licensee would apply a licensee-specific process to manage affected personnel (e.g., with overdue medical evaluations, overdue drill participation, or overdue live-fire training participation)
  • The date and time when the licensing action would be implemented, if approved, and when the licensee-specific process would take effect
  • A statement that the licensee-specific process will ensure that affected employees are informed of the licensing action/amendment, the risks of performing strenuous firefighting activities, the rationale for the relevant requirement, the deviation from the requirement, and the requirement that the licensee restore compliance on the earlier of (1) December 31, 2020 or (2) 90 days after the PHE (annual physicals), the quarter following the termination of the PHE (quarterly drills), or 365 days after the end of the PHE (annual live fire training)

Specific Guidance Depending on the Requirement at Issue

The Staff also had specific advice for each of the three requirements. For requests for relief from annual physicals, licensees should include the following:

  • A statement that the licensing action would only be used by personnel having known, stable medical histories as determined and documented by a licensed physician
  • A statement that except for physical medical examinations at medical facilities, the licensee has completed (or will complete) all medical evaluation requirements, such as the medical history questionnaire
  • A statement that a licensed physician will review the medical history questionnaire prior to the expiration of the current evaluation and will document that an extension of the due date is acceptable so the fire brigade member remains qualified

For requests for relief from quarterly fire brigade drills, licensees should include the following:

  • A statement that compensatory measures for fire prevention will be implanted and a description of those compensatory measures
  • A statement that the licensing action is used only for personnel having prior experience with the activity to which they will be assigned

For requests for relief from annual live fire training, licensees should include the following:

  • A statement that the facility used to conduct live fire training is closed due to the PHE; a statement that the facility has been contacted and the licensee has made a request to schedule its live fire training as soon as possible after the PHE has ended; and a statement that includes the dates the live fire training sessions were previously scheduled or when the annual requirement will not be met
  • A statement that compensatory measures for fire prevention will be implemented and a description of those compensatory measures
  • A statement that the action is used only for personnel having prior experience with the activity to which they will be assigned

The Staff said that it is currently working on a response letter to the industry, but is not preparing any enforcement guidance at this time. The Staff also encouraged licensees to assess their situations as soon as possible after being granted relief so that they can submit a request to extend relief, if necessary.

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