The NRC recently issued its report to Congress on the best practices for the establishment and operation of local community advisory boards (CABs) associated with decommissioning nuclear power plants. This report was required by Section 108 of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), which was signed into law on January 14, 2019. To date, CABs have been put in place for some, but not all, decommissioning nuclear power plants and there is no formal protocol for their makeup or charter.
To gather information for its report, the NRC held 11 public meetings across the country between August and October 2019 near plants in various stages of decommissioning or decommissioning planning, along with two public webinars. The NRC also used a questionnaire to solicit information on the creation and operation of CABs, and reviewed public comments. The NRC reported that it received substantial public input on CABS, including more than 1,200 oral and written comments from members of the public and various governmental entities during the comment period.
Based on this public outreach, the NRC staff—not surprisingly—“encourages the formation of CABs to foster communication and information exchange between the licensee and the members of the community.” And, to comply with Section 108 of NEIMA, the NRC identified the following best practices for the formation and operation of CABs:
- The CAB should be formed early in the decommissioning process. According to the NRC, CABs should be formed once a licensee notifies the NRC of its intent to shut down to improve overall effectiveness in working with the community and the licensee. This allows time for the CAB to develop a charter, consider membership, provide training for members, and identify “community needs” during decommissioning.
- The CAB should develop a charter or guiding documents. The NRC recommends that CABs create “guiding documents” to establish procedures for their (i) operations, including logistics, budget, and recordkeeping; (ii) selection of members; (iii) procedures for meetings and voting; and (iv) requirements for licensee, community, and other stakeholder interactions or engagements. While state-sponsored CABs may have statutory authority over certain decommissioning activities under state law, other CABs should try to coordinate with the licensee to create a charter describing when the CAB’s input could inform decommissioning decisionmaking.
- CAB meetings should be open to the public and consider local preferences for engagement. According to the NRC, some communities prefer alternate outreach methods such as newsletters and open houses, annual reports, and websites to more formal, regularly scheduled meetings. The NRC recommends that a CAB should be responsive to these local preferences and that the meetings “be open to the public whenever possible.”
- A CAB should have a diverse membership. The NRC summarized the varying comments on a CAB’s membership but found a general consensus that CABs should reflect the community surrounding the nuclear site, including tribal communities, and consider members with technical expertise. Thus, the NRC recommends “[d]iversity in CAB membership.”
- CAB meeting frequency should be based on the site status, ongoing activities, and level of stakeholder interest. The NRC found that CABs generally hold more meetings during the decommissioning planning and initial decommissioning phases. Meetings during later decommissioning may not be needed as frequently.
- CABs should identify specific funding sources. While the NRC found that there was agreement that CABs needed funding to operate, the NRC found no public consensus about the source of funding. Some participants felt that licensees should provide funding. Others preferred NRC, federal, state, or community funding, or a combination of all of these sources.
- CABs should have access to technical experts or specific training. The NRC found a consensus that a CAB should retain its own technical experts, but found no consensus on how to pay for outside experts. Some participants felt the NRC or licensee should provide specific training or provide funds for independent experts.
Licensees in or moving toward decommissioning should be aware of NRC preferences for CABs and their recommended best practices. Except for a few state-mandated CABs, they do remain voluntary efforts, and licensees should pay careful attention to the development of appropriate, detailed charters should they move forward with CABs. Morgan Lewis lawyers have been involved in the development of such charters and can assist licensees with development and implementation of CABs. We will continue to track this issue and further developments.