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The NRC Staff released specific guidance to operating and decommissioning reactor licensees on requesting exemptions from fire protection requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE) on May 14. The guidance supplements the NRC’s April 29 teleconference, during which it contemplated such regulatory relief pathways. Morgan Lewis reported on the teleconference earlier this month.

The specific regulations at issue are in 10 CFR 50.48; 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).

Licensees should submit timely exemption requests based on the specifications in 10 CFR 50.4, “Written communications.” Additionally, licensees should send an email with the request to the facility’s NRC project manager. The Staff said it will consider requests on a case-by-case basis, and will provide a written determination to licensees. Exemptions will be in effect for a certain period of time. Licensees must either come into compliance with fire protection standards within that timeframe, or apply for an extension from the NRC before the term expires.

Requests for Relief, in General

When submitting a request for an exemption from either the annual physical requirement, the quarterly drill requirement, or the annual live fire training requirement, licensees should submit the following information:

  • References to supporting documents that will enable the Staff’s timely review (such as ADAMS accession numbers for fire protection licensing basis documents);
  • A statement that the licensee cannot meet the relevant requirement without taking actions that could be contrary to the CDC’s guidance for responding to the COVID-19 PHE;
  • A statement that the licensee would, for the duration of any exemption approved by the NRC, apply a licensee-specific process to manage affected personnel while ensuring the safety of its workers; and
  • The date when the exemption would be implemented, if approved, and when the licensee-specific process would take effect.

Requests for Relief from Annual Physicals

When submitting a request for an exemption from the annual physical requirement, licensees should submit the following information in addition to the general information outlined above:

  • Whether the exemption would only be limited to personnel having known, stable medical histories as determined and documented by a qualified healthcare professional;
  • A statement that each affected fire brigade member has or will complete an annual medical history questionnaire, prior to the expiration of the current annual physical examination, based on standards such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z-86.6-2006, “Physical Qualifications for Respirator Use,” and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire from 29 CFR 1910.134, Appendix C;
  • A statement that a qualified healthcare professional will review the medical history questionnaire prior to the expiration of the current annual physical examination and will determine and document that an extension of the fire brigade member’s annual physical examination due date is acceptable such that he/she remains qualified during the extension; and
  • A statement that compliance will be restored by the earlier of December 31, 2020, or 90 days after the end of the PHE.

Requests for Relief from Quarterly Drills

When submitting a request for an exemption from the quarterly drills requirement, licensees should submit the following information in addition to the general information outlined above:

  • A description of any changes made to the fire brigade drill program to provide means other than typical face-to-face, close-quarter drills for training and evaluations of brigade members during the exemption period;
  • A statement that the exemption, if granted, will be limited to personnel having prior experience with the activity to which they will be assigned; and
  • A statement that compliance will be restored by the earlier of December 31, 2020, or 90 days after the end of the PHE.

Requests for Relief from Annual Live Fire Training

When submitting a request for an exemption from the annual live fire training requirement, licensees should submit the following information in addition to the general information outlined above:

  • A statement that the facility used to conduct live fire fighting 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 fighting training as soon as possible after the end of the PHE;
  • A statement that includes the dates the live fire fighting training sessions were previously scheduled for or when the annual requirement will not be met;
  • A description of any changes made to the fire brigade drill training program so that it will provide for training and evaluations of a brigade member’s knowledge, skills, and abilities without the conduct of live fire fighting training during the exemption period; and
  • A statement that compliance will be restored by the earlier of December 31, 2021, or 365 days after the end of the PHE.

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