KEY TRENDS IN LAW AND POLICY REGARDING
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
The Commission recently approved the NRC Staff’s recommendation to pursue a 24-month schedule for updating the agency’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (LR GEIS). The Commission’s decision signifies an ambitious push forward to make the LR GEIS applicable to subsequent license renewal (SLR) applications.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued SRM-SECY-21-0107, in which it approved the NRC Staff’s recommendation to delegate authority to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) Panel—the independent trial-level adjudicatory body of the NRC—to conduct “mandatory” hearings for certain types of construction permit applications. However, the Commission also noted its intent to conduct such hearings itself in certain first-of-a-kind proceedings.
In response to reports from the NRC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and a tasking order from the NRC's executive director of operations (EDO) directing a review of NRC oversight of “counterfeit, fraudulent, and suspect items” (CFSI) in all regulated activities, the directors of the NRC's Offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) and Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS) jointly issued a memorandum on March 4 concluding that “there is no evidence that CFSIs have adversely challenged the safety of reactor facilities” or any licensed activities. However, the NRC Staff's activities evaluating whether program improvements are necessary to address the risks posed by CFSI remain ongoing, with a final report expected in mid-April.
A group of four US senators introduced a bill on March 16 to ban imports of uranium products from the Russian Federation. If enacted, such a ban could complicate the refueling of existing commercial reactors in the United States that rely on Russian uranium products. A ban also could extend the schedule in the United States for deploying some advanced reactors, because Russia is a key source of the high-assay, low enriched uranium (HALEU) they plan to use. In a related development, Russia is considering a ban on uranium exports to the United States in retaliation for the most recent energy sanctions on Russia.
The NRC recently revised its Enforcement Manual (Manual) to consolidate and expand its guidance on the process for resolving licensee challenges to certain enforcement actions. The biggest change to the Manual is the creation of a new Section 2.8 on “Disputed Violations” that merges into one section the disputed violation resolution process for all enforcement actions other than those associated with NRC orders.
The NRC held a public meeting on March 4 to discuss the issuance for public comment of draft regulatory guide (DG) DG-5061, Revision 1, Cyber Security Programs for Nuclear Power Reactors. DG-5061, Revision 1 would revise Regulatory Guide (RG) 5.71, which provides NRC licensees with guidance on meeting the cybersecurity requirements described in Section 73.54 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, “Protection of digital computer and communication systems and networks.”
The NRC’s Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Office of Investigations Annual Report FY 2021 summarizing its activities during the past fiscal year. Overall, OI saw a drop in caseload, likely due—at least in part—to the COVID-19 pandemic and more workers working from home. Even so, the trend of increasing investigations of materials licensees continued, and this is likely to be a continuing area of focus for the NRC.
The Commission recently issued SRM-SECY-19-0100, in which it disapproved, by a 2-to-1 vote, a request made by the NRC staff that sought approval to discontinue the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) Security Requirements rulemaking and deny a related petition for rulemaking filed by C-10 Research and Education Foundation Inc.
The NRC is taking an important step toward an inclusive licensing regime for a new generation of reactors. On January 3, the NRC staff submitted for commission approval a recommended final rule on “Emergency Preparedness for Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies.”

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a final rule in the Federal Register on January 14 updating the maximum amounts of civil monetary penalties it can impose. Reflecting the price challenges in the larger US economy, the maximum civil monetary penalty amounts dramatically increased over the prior year as a result of the rise of inflation.