NRC staff proposed to the Commission (see SECY-2019-067) certain changes to the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) on June 28. Overall, these changes, if approved by the Commission, will result in a net reduction in the amount of time the NRC spends on planning and implementing certain inspections, and how it addresses the results of those inspections in the ROP. Proposed focus areas are as follows:

  1. Eliminate the minimum four-quarter requirement for consideration of greater-than-Green inspection findings
  2. Revise greater-than-Green–related performance indicator treatment
  3. Change the description of a White inspection finding from "low to moderate" safety significance to "low" safety significance, and change the description of a Yellow inspection finding from "substantial" to "moderate" safety significance
  4. Revise the sample sizes, which action is expected to reduce NRC inspection person-hours for several common inspections
  5. Revise the frequency of the Problem Identification & Reporting inspection from two three years
  6. Revise the Emergency Planning Significance Determination Process to focus more heavily on functions that have the greatest impact on public health and safety

The Ohio House of Representatives approved HB 6 on July 23, providing up to $150 million in financial support for the two operating nuclear plants in the state. A version of the House bill was passed by the Ohio Senate last week, and Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill into law shortly after the legislation passed the House.

Read the full text of HB 6 >>

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a Federal Register notice on July 16 requesting comments on a regulatory basis supporting a “limited scope” rulemaking to develop physical security requirements for advanced reactors. For this rulemaking, “advanced reactors” means “light-water small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light water reactors (non-LWRs)” which includes, but “is not fully coextensive with,” the definition of an “Advanced Nuclear Reactor” in the recently enacted Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. The deadline to submit comments is August 15.

We previously reported on this rulemaking process, which started with the NRC Staff’s August 1, 2018, report to the Commission, evaluating options for revising physical security regulations for advanced reactors. We also reported on the Commission’s approval of the NRC’s Staff’s proposed rulemaking plan, which occurred on November 19, 2018. The NRC’s physical security requirements for large LWRs—in 10 CFR § 73.55>—is focused on preventing significant core damage and spent fuel sabotage. Current regulations require each site to have at least 10 armed responders for emergency security response (10 CFR § 73.55(k)(5)(ii)), and an on-site secondary alarm station to monitor potential issues (10 CFR § 73.55(i)(4)(iii)).

On June 24, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, expanding the scope of information protected under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA establishes an expansive right for the public to access records from executive agencies to hold the government accountable. Limiting that broad right, FOIA includes several broadly worded exceptions whereby the release of certain information may not be compelled under FOIA. One such exemption, Exemption 4, states that “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person” that are “privileged or confidential” are protected from mandatory public disclosure. The statute does not define “confidential,” so the question of what “commercial or financial information” is protected from disclosure has resulted in much litigation.

Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion held that commercial or financial information that is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner—and that is provided to the government under an assurance of privacy—is exempt from disclosure under FOIA. This holding has significant implications for all businesses that turn any information over to the US government. No longer may courts require proof that the information, if disclosed, would “cause substantial harm” to the company’s competitive position. Mere confidentiality, plus agency representations that the information will remain confidential, is enough.

To address national security interests and prevent the unauthorized transfer of scientific and technical information to certain foreign entities, the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued Order No. 486.1 on June 7. The order prohibits DOE employees and contractors from participating in certain “talent recruitment programs” – specifically “talent recruitment programs” of foreign governments determined by the DOE to be a “foreign country of risk.” DOE contractors and subcontractors within the utility and nuclear sectors should be prepared to implement controls to ensure that neither they nor their employees or subcontractors participate in these foreign-sponsored programs for identified countries, which apparently include China and Russia.

Read more about the new DOE order and what contractors and subcontractors should know.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued three rules on June 19, granting additional powers to states to determine their projected energy resource mixes, including nuclear energy. In response to the rules, utilities should be prepared for possible changes to state policies defining what constitutes “clean” energy and supporting reliability. The rules are intended to go into effect 30 days from their issuance. However, the implementation timeline for the rules is not certain because several states and organizations have stated they intend to challenge the rules in the federal courts.

Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) (H. 3306) into the House of Representatives on June 18. According to a press release from the congresswoman’s website, NELA will help to “create high-quality jobs, strengthen national security, reduce foreign energy dependence, and promote emissions-free energy.” Original co-sponsors of the bill include Representative Denver Riggleman (R-VA-05), Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA-17), and Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA-01).

The House bill is the companion to Senate Bill 903 (S. 903) that Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with 14 other original co-sponsors, reintroduced on March 27. Senators Murkowski and Booker, along with seven other bipartisan senators, originally introduced NELA on September 6, 2018, as Senate Bill 3422 (S. 3422). Although the Senate Subcommittee on Energy held hearings on S. 3422 in November 2018, it took no further action before the end of the 115th Congress. The bill consequently lapsed, requiring the senators to reintroduce it as S. 903. The bill now has 17 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Staff members from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response and Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation held a public meeting on June 17 to discuss a summary of the Assessment of the NRC’s Power Reactor Cyber Security Program. In response to the Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI’s) PRM-73-18, “Petition to Amend 10 CFR 73.54, ‘Protection of Digital Computer and Communication Systems and Networks’,” and based on NRC guidance, this Assessment marked 10 years since the publication of 10 CFR 73.54.

The US Supreme Court issued its decision on June 17 in the case of Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren. The Court affirmed the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which held that the Atomic Energy Act does not preempt Virginia’s statutory prohibition on uranium mining. This decision is important to the nuclear industry because it considers the extent to which state and local governments may insert themselves into the field of radiological safety by enacting “bottleneck” laws purporting to regulate antecedent activities.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Supplemental Federal Register Notice on June 5 that addresses its interpretation of what constitutes high-level radioactive waste (HLW). The DOE said the notice reflects DOE policy modifications informed by public comments it received during the 90-day public comment period after it issued the initial Federal Register Notice on October 10, 2018. DOE stated that it received roughly 360 distinct, unrepeated comments from a variety of stakeholders: members of the public, Native American tribes, members of Congress, numerous state and local governments, and one federal agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).