Under the assumption that the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE) will continue into 2021, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Staff hosted a public meeting via teleconference on October 15 to discuss future requests for relief from regulatory requirements. The meeting focused generally on exemption requests the NRC received in 2020 and, more specifically, the information licensees should provide when submitting future requests for relief.
The NRC Staff granted approximately 100 exemption requests in 2020, many of which were from Part 73 force-on-force exercise requirements. Moving forward, the NRC will continue to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis and will evaluate requests for relief by balancing the need to preserve safety against any undue hardship the exemption might impose. Licensees should submit their requests for relief by normal channels (e.g., mail, online forms), if possible, and should specifically address the effects of COVID-19 that necessitate regulatory relief. Importantly, the Staff said it will be more likely to grant exemption requests in cases where licensees clearly explain why they are unable to meet the regulatory requirement at issue as a result of COVID-19 and how the exemption will help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Requests for Relief from Part 26 – Work Hour Rule
For future requests for relief from Part 26 requirements regarding work hour controls, licensees should address why they are unable to comply with work hour controls, how the exemption will mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on safety and security, and contributing and mitigating factors for cumulative fatigue. Exemption periods should be separated by fewer than 14 days of compliance with Part 26. For more information, licensees should refer to the NRC’s March 28 letter and April 8 addendum addressing exemptions from Part 26.
Requests for Relief from Section 50.55a – Owners Activity Report
For future requests for relief from Section 50.55a regarding the ASME Owners Activity Report, licensees should address why they have been unable to use technology or other solutions, such as remote collaboration, to complete the reporting requirement. For more information, licensees should refer to the NRC’s April 9 letter addressing this reporting requirement.
Requests for Relief from Part 55 – Requalification and Medical Examinations
For future requests for relief from Part 55 requirements regarding operator requalification and medical examinations, licensees should include the date on which they will achieve compliance with the requirement; for requalification, the dates of the last requalification exams and scheduled end date of the current cycle; and for medical examination exemptions, the dates when the make-up examinations will be conducted. For more information, licensees should refer to the NRC’s April 14 letter addressing operator licensing requirements.
Requests for Relief – Emergency Preparedness Exercises
For future requests for relief from the requirement to conduct emergency preparedness exercises, licensees should consult the NRC’s May 14 letter and September 2 addendum addressing these exercises for further guidance. The NRC is currently considering whether to issue new guidance for 2021.
Requests for Relief from Part 73, Appendix B – Force-on-Force Exercises
Notably, the NRC received a significant number of requests for relief from the requirement to conduct force-on-force exercises in 2020. Licensees that received exemptions by following the NRC’s April 20 guidance committed to fulfilling their exercise requirements by December 31, 2020, or 90 days after the end of the PHE, whichever came earlier. Because the PHE is ongoing, December 31 is the deadline for licensees to conduct their exercises.
The NRC issued updated guidance on October 13, which applies both to licensees that previously received exemptions and to those that did not previously request exemptions. In sum, the guidance recognizes that licensees may be unable to complete the exercises to which they committed in their initial exemptions because of the ongoing PHE. It also recognizes that licensees that did not previously request an exemption from this requirement and, therefore, are still required to complete force-on-force exercises before the end of 2020, might not be able to complete them. As a result, the NRC will consider expedited review of requests for exemptions from force-on-force exercises through the end of 2020.
Licensees should include the following in their requests:
- All licensees requesting an exemption should describe how they intend to maintain contingency response readiness.
- Licensees that previously received an exemption should describe the reason for being unable to conduct the makeup exercises to which they committed in their original exemptions.
- Licensees that did not previously apply for exemptions should describe the reason for being unable to perform their regularly scheduled exercises. They should also include the information requested in Enclosure C to the April 20 letter.
The Staff also noted that, in planning force-on-force exercises for 2021, licensees should consider benchmarking with other licensees that have already conducted exercises. They should also consider temporarily using increased artificialities and simulations to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Other Requests for Relief
Of note, the Staff does not anticipate any future requests for relief from Part 20 (respirator testing and related medical evaluations) or fire protection requirements. Should licensees require such exemptions, however, they should follow the original guidance outlined in the Staff’s April 27 letter and May 14 letter, respectively.
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