The NRC’s Commissioners approved an NRC Staff request on August 5 to withdraw two SECY memoranda related to improvements of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP). These SECY papers were initially issued in 2018 (SECY-18-113) and 2019 (SECY-19-067), and sought Commission approval for what the NRC Staff recommended would be potential improvements to the ROP as a whole. In withdrawing these two SECY papers, the Commission’s brief Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) provided little explanation as to why the Staff requested withdrawal of the two SECY papers.

The NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report (OIG-21-A-13) discussing the results of its audit of the NRC’s pandemic oversight of nuclear power plants. The purpose of the audit was to “assess the NRC’s policies and procedures for conducting reactor inspections during the COVID-19 public health emergency and to identify best practices that could be applied during future pandemics or other public health emergencies.” In short, the OIG found that:

The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has submitted its annual report on Transfers of Civil Nuclear Technology to Congress for fiscal year (FY) 2020. The report fulfills the agency’s obligation under Section 3136(e) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 to submit an annual report covering its review of applications under 10 CFR Part 810 to transfer US civil nuclear technology to foreign persons. Morgan Lewis tracks these annual reports; see link to our full analysis of the prior report (for FY 2019).

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comment on the need to continue or modify the portion of the Price-Anderson Act that it administers, as it prepares a report to Congress. The Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 2005 (codified at 42 USC 2210(p)) requires DOE to submit this report to Congress by the end of December of this year. The deadline to submit comments is August 25, 2021.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reversed a Trump administration decision involving use of nuclear materials. On June 30, the EPA announced that it was “withdrawing, revoking and rescinding” its conditional approval of The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) request to approve the use of phosphogypsum (PG) in road construction. PG is a radioactive byproduct of fertilizer production and is regulated by the EPA. This action follows the EPA’s earlier announcement that it is reviewing a Trump administration decision on cleanup standards for radionuclide-contaminated effluent at a Tennessee Superfund site, which we reported on. Together, the two decisions confirm that the EPA continues to scrutinize prior agency decisions and to more strictly regulate radioactive materials.

As we have previously discussed, in August 2020, the NRC issued a notice in the Federal Register (85 FR 47252) announcing its intent to review and potentially update the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (LR GEIS) (NUREG-1437). (The most recent revision was in 2013.) The notice indicated the results of the NRC's preliminary review of the existing GEIS and identified several environmental issues for possible revision and update, and invited public comments and proposals for areas that should be updated. The scoping process consisted of a 90-day public comment period and four public webinar meetings held in August 2020. Approximately 60 members of the public, industry, and federal and state agencies participated in the four webinars. The government recently published a Scoping Summary Report that summarizes the comments received during the public scoping period and the NRC’s response.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a site-specific review that has broader implications for Superfund site cleanups with radionuclide contamination. The EPA is reviewing a Trump-era decision on the applicability of water quality regulations for radionuclide-contaminated effluent from a Tennessee Superfund site. This review could result in reversing the prior determination that the Clean Water Act’s (CWA’s) technology-based effluent limits do not apply. If the EPA reverses this decision, it could signal that the EPA is looking to impose more stringent standards for the cleanup and discharge of radionuclide-contaminated water at other sites.
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.