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The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is requesting feedback on the proposed Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act by Wednesday, February 19. The Committee hopes to introduce the bill by the end of the month.

The act proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States. Several programs are highlighted below.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program authorizes the secretary of energy to establish a program to support existing plants in the United States. The program would focus on research and development of technologies that will “modernize and improve” vital aspects of the reactors, including reliability, component aging, and safety.

On February 5, DOE released a Request for Information/Notice of Intent (RFI/NOI), which announced DOE’s intent to solicit applications for two Advanced Reactor Demonstration (ARD) awards. Each award will be in the amount of $80 million for the first year, with additional funding dependent on individual project requirements and congressional appropriations. The projects are expected to be operational within five to seven years of the award.

Between two and five applicants who are not selected for one of the two ARD awards may be considered for a separate Risk Reduction award, if the project represents diversity of advanced reactor designs. The awards will address technical risks in each applicant’s reactor design. The total amount of the awards will be $30 million for the first year.

The NRC’s Reactor Decommissioning Financial Assurance Working Group recently held a public meeting to receive comments on potential guidance updates before publishing its final report. Prior to the public meeting, the working group shared a presentation summarizing its findings and proposals.

As background, the working group was established in September 2019 to review the NRC’s current decommissioning financial assurance processes in response to the growing use of third-party decommissioning business models. In general, this business model has the licensee sell its assets, including the decommissioning trust fund, and transfer its license—either temporarily or permanently—to a third party who then performs the decommissioning work before the license is terminated and the site released for unrestricted use. The working group was tasked with identifying potential regulatory gaps or policy issues related to adequate financial assurances and making recommendations to address them.

The NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safety and Safeguards recently issued two Information Notices (INs) in response to medical events arising from the administration of radiopharmaceuticals.

The first IN alerts medical-use licensees to four strontium (Sr)-82/rubidium (Rb)-82 generator elution events that resulted in patients receiving concentrations of Sr-82 and Sr-85 in excess of regulatory requirements. The IN describes four separate events in which approximately 90 patients were administered Rb-82 chloride for cardiac imaging that contained Sr-82 and Sr-85 concentrations in excess of the regulatory limits identified in 10 CFR § 35.204. In evaluating these events, the NRC found that:

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a final rule in the Federal Register on January 15 updating the maximum amounts of civil monetary penalties it can impose. The final rule revises 10 CFR 2.205(j) to increase the maximum penalty the NRC can issue from $298,211 to $303,471 per violation, per day, an increase of 1.764%. Similarly, the final rule revises 10 CFR 13.3 to increase the amount of a civil penalty under the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act from $11,463 to $11,665. These monetary penalty amounts go into effect immediately and can be assessed regardless of whether the violation occurred before or after January 15.

As we previously reported regarding last year’s revisions to the civil monetary amounts, the NRC is required by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, to annually adjust the amounts of the civil monetary penalties for inflation in accordance with a statutory formula set forth in the legislation. The NRC last updated the maximum amount of civil penalties in February 2019.

Law360 recently named Morgan Lewis Energy Group of the Year for our work assisting energy clients in deploying innovative pricing models, navigating complicated regulatory requirements, and managing crises. Partners Kathryn Sutton and Richard Filosa discussed the firm’s significant victories for clients that earned the group a place among Law360’s Practice Groups of the Year in this profile. 

Read the Law360 article.  

The US Department of the Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has published the final rules implementing the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA). FIRRMA piloted noticeable changes and higher awareness of CFIUS and its impact on foreign investment in the United States. Our firm's CFIUS working group is closely monitoring CFIUS’s January 13 release of the final regulations under FIRRMA and will provide an analysis on the regulations and the anticipated impact on cross-border investments. For more information, read CFIUS Issues Final Regulations Under FIRRMA.

Our energy lawyers have prepared a LawFlash addressing the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” published today in the Federal Register by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The proposed rule has four major elements: (1) to modernize, simplify, and accelerate the NEPA process; (2) clarify terms, application, and scope of NEPA review; (3) enhance coordination with states, tribes, and localities; and (4) reduce unnecessary burdens and delays.

To date, the commercial nuclear power industry has expressed strong support for the types of rule changes proposed by the CEQ in its NPRM, as they are intended to streamline and expedite the federal agency NEPA review process. Those in the industry that depend on federal agency action when advancing projects and securing permits should actively participate in the proposed rulemaking and help the CEQ build a sufficient agency record to defend against any later litigation challenges to new regulations.

Read the full LawFlash.

The NRC Staff held a public meeting on December 12 at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, to discuss subsequent license renewal (SLR) lessons learned. This was the second such meeting this year, with a third planned for early 2020.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss comprehensive lessons learned regarding key technical issues common to the first three SLR applications submitted to the agency for review and approval. Ultimately, the objective is to update and clarify NRC’s SLR regulatory guidance documents, capturing key lessons learned and further ensuring a review process that is both effective and efficient for future applicants. At the outset of the meeting, the NRC Staff made clear that the next planned meeting will focus on process-related improvements and lessons learned.