Commissioner Annie Caputo has announced her plans to leave the NRC when her term expires next week, on June 30, 2021. This will leave the Commission with the bare minimum number of commissioners needed to conduct business.
The NRC Office of Enforcement (OE) recently published its Enforcement Program Annual Report for calendar year 2020. The report shows that the number of escalated enforcement actions increased 7% over 2019, but remained below the five-year average from 2016 to 2020. That said, 2018 was the nadir of this five-year period with 45 escalated enforcement actions. So while the number of escalated enforcement actions have not returned to levels seen in 2016 and 2017 (each with more than 80), instances of escalated enforcement remain above longer-term historic trends, notwithstanding maturation of the industry. Whether this trend continues is to be seen. In April 2021, the NRC named Mark Lombard as the new director of the Office of Enforcement.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently issued its Report to Congress on Abnormal Occurrences for fiscal year 2020. The report documents key aspects of those events that the NRC considers “Abnormal Occurrences” (AOs) and allows the regulated community to review the operating experience of reactor, medical, and industrial users of radioactive materials. AOs are unscheduled events that the NRC determines to be significant from the standpoint of public health or safety.
As is clear from recent news reports, cybersecurity hacks and breaches have been trending upward for some time, and there has been a noticeable uptick over the last several months—including in the energy industry. As a result, President Joseph Biden has committed his administration, in large part through the American Jobs Plan and his executive order of May 12, to strengthen cybersecurity across the nation.
The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) held a public stakeholder meeting on May 19 to discuss its Whistleblower Protection Program and solicit feedback from interested individuals on how to improve its administration of the program. This call followed a similar call OSHA hosted in October, on which we also reported.
The NRC recently published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) seeking public comments on possible amendments to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations on categorical exclusions. Comments are due by July 21, 2021.
Vineyard Wind has received approval from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service for its 800 megawatt offshore wind farm located about 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The approval is likely to facilitate the development of additional projects and has been touted as helping achieve President Biden’s ambitious climate change goals.
The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report. The report analyzes regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2020. The report’s top-line numbers show that the number of allegations fell approximately 10% from 2019. This reduction continues the decline in allegations seen since 2016; and the number of allegations has fallen by more than 50% over the past five years. But while the overall number of allegations continued to decline in 2020, the rate of decline slowed.
As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools become more widely adopted in various products and industries, the NRC has begun studying what roles these technologies can play in commercial nuclear power operations. On April 21, as part of its study, the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research requested public comments on the role of these technologies “in the various phases of nuclear power generation operational experience and plant management.”