The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently issued Revision 3 of Regulatory Guide (RG) 4.2, “Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Stations.” Revision 3 provides a long-overdue update to RG 4.2, which was last revised in 1976. Given the numerous changes to applicable environmental statutes, regulations, and executive orders since that time, the NRC issued two interim staff guidance (ISG) documents in 2014. Revision 3 incorporates guidance from those ISGs insofar as it relates to information that an applicant must include in its Environmental Report (ER) for any requested permit, license, or other authorization to site, construct, and/or operate a new nuclear power plant. Prior to issuing RG 4.2, Revision 3, the Staff published a draft version thereof in February 2017 and responded to comments received on the draft.
In a Federal Register Notice issued September 24, the NRC has implemented an inflation adjustment to the amount of Price-Anderson financial protection that is available effective November 1, 2018. The inflation adjustment is mandated every five years under the terms of the Price-Anderson Act, as amended (Section 170 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954). The maximum total deferred premium will be increased from $121.255 million to $131.056 million, per operating reactor, per incident. The maximum annual assessment will be increased from $18.963 million to $20.496 million, per operating reactor, per incident.
The National Labor Relations Board (Board) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comments in the Federal Register on September 14. The proposed rule seeks to reestablish the standard for determining joint-employer status that existed before the Board’s 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries of California decision.
This is a potentially significant development for companies in the nuclear industry, particularly for those with unionized workforces. But the proposed rule is also important for nuclear companies with nonunion workforces because joint-employment issues frequently arise in whistleblower cases, in which contract employees seek to hold the utility liable under Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act, as well as their actual employer (the contracting company). Although the US Department of Labor (DOL)—not the Board—adjudicates Section 211 claims, DOL sometimes considers Board decisions in its adjudications. Consequently, the proposed rule, if ultimately promulgated, will likely inform future Section 211 cases.
The NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) recently issued an update on the status of resolving the recommendations made by the NRC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in its audit of NRC’s Significance Determination Process (SDP) for reactor safety. The update addresses the progress made towards resolving the four recommendations from the audit.
The first recommendation was to “assess SDP workflow and establish, communicate, and document clear and consistent expectations for staff and managers to complete their roles in the SDP.” In its update, NRC reported on the Inspection Finding Resolution Management (IFRM) trial period and the results of an effectiveness review report. The effectiveness review report made 11 recommendations, most notably that the IFRM process should be continued with some changes. Staff is now revising procedures used to support the IFRM trial period, which will become the new IMC 0609, IMC 0609, Attachment 1, and IMC 0609 Attachment 5. Staff intends to issue the revised procedures by the end of 2018.
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on September 13 affirmed a decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that dismissed two complaints seeking to invalidate the Illinois Zero Emission Credits (ZEC) program.
The Illinois ZEC program was created in 2016 as part of the Future Energy Jobs Act. A ZEC is a credit that represents the environmental attribute of one megawatt hour of energy produced from an eligible zero-emission facility as defined by the statute. The Illinois Power Agency confers ZECs to eligible facilities generating zero-emission power and requires utilities to purchase those ZECs. The act set an initial price for ZECs based on a calculated “social cost” of carbon, but the price can adjust downward based on an index of wholesale power prices. While the eligible zero-emission generators will still participate in wholesale electricity markets, ZECs provide additional out-of-market payments to compensate the generators for their zero-emission power.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is seeking public comment on two draft protective order templates intended for use in adjudicatory hearings related to the inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria (ITAAC) in combined licenses (COL) issued under 10 CFR Part 52.
By way of background, NRC regulations in 10 CFR Part 52 allow the NRC to issue COLs authorizing both construction and operation of a nuclear power plant in a single license. This approach is an alternative to the traditional two-step licensing process codified in 10 CFR Part 50 and is intended to facilitate early resolution of safety and environmental issues before construction begins.
A bipartisan group of nine US senators introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), S. 3422, on September 6. According to a press release announcing the bill’s introduction, NELA will “boost nuclear energy innovation and ensure advanced reactors can provide clean, safe, affordable and reliable power to meet national and global energy needs.” The legislation was introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), James Risch (R-ID), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
If enacted, NELA would provide support for advanced reactors, including a program to provide a source of low-enriched, high-assay uranium to advance nuclear reactor technology development. According to the sponsors, the bill plans to incentivize public-private partnerships among the federal government, research institutes, and private industry. The bill also includes education initiatives, workforce development, and training for nuclear science. In addition, NELA would direct the US Department of Energy (DOE) to provide a “versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source, which shall operate as a national user facility” by no later than the end of 2025.
Of particular note for advanced reactor fuel designs, NELA authorizes the issuance, through sale, resale, transfer, or lease, of low-enriched uranium from DOE stockpiles of high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel to support fuel testing and nuclear demonstration projects. This program would make available high-assay low-enriched uranium, with at least two metric tons of uranium-235 available by the end of 2022 and 10 metric tons available by the end of 2025.
NELA also directs DOE to create programs to support demonstration projects for advanced reactor designs, identify areas for fundamental nuclear research, and grant the private sector increased access to the results of federally funded nuclear research. NELA specifically directs DOE to enter into at least four separate nuclear demonstration project agreements by 2028, and to explore advanced materials research and fuel designs through fundamental research. The bill also would allow the Secretary of Energy to establish a long-term pilot program to enter into a power purchase agreement for nuclear power for up to 40 years. The pilot program would be intended to give “special consideration” to “first-of-a-kind or early development nuclear technologies that can provide reliable and resilient power” to off-grid locations.
For more than two decades, the NRC and industry have worked independently and together to assess the viability of scalable emergency planning zones (EPZs) for small modular reactors (SMRs) and other advanced reactor designs. In a preliminary finding made public last week in an Advanced Safety Evaluation, the NRC Staff agreed with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) request for exemptions related to emergency planning, submitted as part of TVA’s Clinch River Early Site Permit application (ESPA). That conclusion included exemptions from the 10-mile EPZ requirement. This event marks the first time that the NRC Staff has concluded that a plume exposure pathway (PEP) EPZ with a radius of less than 10 miles may be appropriate for a commercial nuclear power plant utilizing an SMR design. This development suggests that the NRC Staff is willing to consider less expansive EPZs when licensing SMRs, and presumably other advanced reactors, when the applicant has provided sufficient analysis and technical bases for doing so.
The NRC Staff sent a report on August 1 to the Commissioners that evaluates four options for revising regulations and guidance on physical security for advanced reactors. The Staff is recommending a limited-scope rulemaking that retains the current overall framework for security requirements in 10 CFR Part 73, but provides alternatives for advanced reactors for physical security. The Staff estimates that such a rulemaking could be completed within 44 months of the Commission’s authorization.
The NRC’s physical security requirements for large light-water reactors (LWRs) are intended to protect against attacks and sabotage. In addition to other measures, commercial power reactor licensees meet physical security requirements through the use of an armed guard force at an estimated cost in excess of $5 million per year at a given site.
The US House of Representatives and Senate recently passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA) as part of the reconciled conference report for the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The president signed the bill on August 13 and new legislation will take effect on a rolling basis. Although several broad based changes will affect all industries, the nuclear industry will be relieved that the final bill addresses the concerns the industry raised at the outset when the original bill created challenges for US companies’ ability to compete in international trade. However, the industry still needs to monitor the anticipated regulatory implementation as the US Department of Treasury drafts new regulations. Other agencies, including the US departments of Commerce (DOC) and Energy (DOE) will implement their policy and regulatory changes to address FIRRMA. Morgan Lewis discussed the potential steps nuclear companies could take to be ready for any changes resulting from FIRRMA in a previous Up & Atom post.