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NRC Commissioners Christopher Hanson, David Wright, and Jeff Baran recently voted 2-1 (Commissioner Baran dissenting) to implement SECY-21-0029, “Rulemaking Plan on Revision of Inservice Testing and Inservice Inspection Program Update Frequencies Required in 10 CFR 50.55a.” SECY-21-0029 will initiate a rulemaking to extend the required Inservice Inspection (ISI) Program and Inservice Testing (IST) Program Code of Record update frequency from 120 months to 240 months.

By way of background, the NRC currently incorporates by reference into 10 CFR § 50.55a various American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Codes, including Section XI, Division 1, “Rules for Inservice Inspection of Nuclear Power Plant Components,” and the “Operation and Maintenance of Nuclear Power Plants,” Division 1, OM Code: Section IST (OM Code). The NRC Staff evaluated possible options to streamline the agency’s treatment of ASME Codes in 10 CFR § 50.55a, and made three recommendations:

  • Revise the requirements to update IST and ISI programs every 120 months following the next update by a nuclear power plant licensee to the 2019 edition of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code and the 2020 edition of the ASME OM Code
  • Institute a streamlined rulemaking process (i.e., direct final rule) for unconditionally approved ASME Code Cases to expedite the approval of requirements for new and evolving approaches and technologies for IST and ISI activities without the need for a request to use these Code Cases as alternatives under 10 CFR 50.55a(z), which require specific NRC authorization
  • Decrease the frequency of rulemakings to incorporate ASME Code editions

Because the first recommendation would constitute a change to the regulatory framework of 10 CFR § 50.55a and, therefore, would require a rulemaking, it required approval from the NRC. The Staff informed the Commission that it planned to incorporate the second and third recommendations, which did not require formal NRC action.

The Staff “estimate[d] the proposed action to involve cost savings by extending the interval for licensees to update their ISI and IST programs (currently performed every 120 months).” Specifically, each “IST and ISI program update costs a licensee an estimated $1,000,000 per reactor unit. The potential cost savings to relax the requirement for licensees to update their IST and ISI programs every 120 months would be based on how frequently the licensees would have to update these programs.” This means that doubling the interval would result in an estimated cost savings of $1,000,000 per reactor unit during this 240-month period.

In his comments approving the SECY, Chairman Hanson noted that he was “convinced that [the Staff’s recommendation to extend the program update period] does not affect the NRC’s ability to maintain reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety” and that because “licensees must update their Codes of record to the most recently incorporated edition of the ASME ISI and IST Codes . . . [he views] this approach potentially incentivizing licensees to adopt more current standards, thereby adding to safety.” Commissioner Wright agreed with Hanson that “this proposal does not affect the NRC’s ability to maintain reasonable assurance of adequate protection of the public health and safety and that the NRC can take necessary action to address emergent safety issues, irrespective of the update cycle.”

Commissioner Baran, however, voted against the rulemaking, reasoning that the Staff “presents no convincing safety case for this deregulatory proposal.” While not addressing Chairman Hanson’s observation that the NRC’s existing regulatory processes are more than adequate to address emergent issues, Commissioner Baran concluded, “If we are going to make a change to an effective regulatory program, there should be a strong safety case for doing so. Here, the arguments made by the staff are wholly unpersuasive.”

Morgan Lewis will continue to monitor this forthcoming rulemaking.