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The NRC held a public meeting with industry on November 2 to discuss approaches for performing supplier oversight during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Although utilities generally audit their suppliers every 36 months, many utilities have an NRC-approved “grace period” of nine months beyond the 36-month limit to complete the audits. Even with the nine-month grace period, however, utilities have struggled to complete audits during the pandemic.

Specifically, members of industry discussed how travel restrictions during the pandemic have barred licensees from traveling to vendors to conduct audits required by Criterion VII of Appendix B to 10 CFR Part 50. Given these challenges, industry described four interim procurement approaches, including (1) procuring from alternate sources, (2) performing commercial-grade dedication, (3) implementing a hybrid method for performing the audit both onsite and remotely, and (4) using a provisional procurement authorization in conjunction with utilities’ corrective action programs (CAPs). Industry also iterated several solutions to mitigate travel challenges:

  • Following interim guidance from the Nuclear Procurement Issues Committee (NUPIC), which allows the audit team leader to decide how many individuals are required onsite for the audit and how many individuals can support the audit remotely
  • Supporting an effort from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to develop guidance on conducting audits remotely (expected completion by the end of 2020)
  • Using a decision tree for procurement options if a vendor is approaching or has exceeded the grace period
  • Utilizing utilities’ CAPs for evaluations of provisional authorizations, as a last resort

Industry primarily focused the presentation on the last two options, which it considered “bridging strategies” until the above-referenced EPRI guidance is finalized and submitted for NRC review.

If, after completing the decision tree, a utility concludes that those procurement alternatives are not viable, the utility may use its CAP to complete a provisional procurement authorization. The provisional procurement authorization, which is derived from NRC-approved changes made to a utility’s operating quality assurance manual in August 2020, would allow utilities to continue using suppliers that exceeded the grace period, provided certain conditions were satisfied.

Industry also provided a sample provisional procurement authorization form, which focuses first on the supplier’s quality assurance program, and second on the technical and quality characteristics of the item in question. NRC Staff confirmed that this approach is acceptable for the time being, until the Staff can review and approve guidance for conducting remote audits.

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