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The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Office of Investigations Annual Report FY 2019, providing an overview of OI’s activities during the previous fiscal year. The report shows that OI opened 21% fewer cases in 2019 than in 2018, continuing the downward trend of the last 10 years.

Notably, OI Director Andy Shuttleworth identified two important factors contributing to the decline: “(1) the number of operational reactors and (2) the operating experience of the reactor operators.” Interestingly, Director Shuttleworth also referenced the possibility of the agency making other unspecified use of its collection of information gathered by OI agents.

In SECY 20-0020, issued on February 28, the NRC Staff informed the Commission of its conclusion that developing a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) for advanced nuclear reactors (ANRs) is viable.

The SECY paper explains that the exploratory process for developing a GEIS for ANRs “focused on a non-light-water reactor that generates an output of approximately 30 Mwt [megawatts thermal] or less.” Although the scope is currently limited, the NRC Staff expects that the GEIS could expand to eventually include other types of ANRs with higher power levels.

The director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Office of Enforcement (OE) issued Enforcement Guidance Memorandum (EGM) 2020-001, “Enforcement Discretion Not to Cite Certain Violations of 10 CFR 73.56 Requirements” on February 13. The purpose of the EGM is to formalize that the NRC will not cite certain “violations” of 10 CFR 73.56(d)(3) based on an updated interpretation of what that regulation requires regarding confirmation of “true identity” when granting access authorization.

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The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is requesting feedback on the proposed Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act by Wednesday, February 19. The Committee hopes to introduce the bill by the end of the month.

The act proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States. Several programs are highlighted below.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program authorizes the secretary of energy to establish a program to support existing plants in the United States. The program would focus on research and development of technologies that will “modernize and improve” vital aspects of the reactors, including reliability, component aging, and safety.

On February 5, DOE released a Request for Information/Notice of Intent (RFI/NOI), which announced DOE’s intent to solicit applications for two Advanced Reactor Demonstration (ARD) awards. Each award will be in the amount of $80 million for the first year, with additional funding dependent on individual project requirements and congressional appropriations. The projects are expected to be operational within five to seven years of the award.

Between two and five applicants who are not selected for one of the two ARD awards may be considered for a separate Risk Reduction award, if the project represents diversity of advanced reactor designs. The awards will address technical risks in each applicant’s reactor design. The total amount of the awards will be $30 million for the first year.

The NRC’s Reactor Decommissioning Financial Assurance Working Group recently held a public meeting to receive comments on potential guidance updates before publishing its final report. Prior to the public meeting, the working group shared a presentation summarizing its findings and proposals.

As background, the working group was established in September 2019 to review the NRC’s current decommissioning financial assurance processes in response to the growing use of third-party decommissioning business models. In general, this business model has the licensee sell its assets, including the decommissioning trust fund, and transfer its license—either temporarily or permanently—to a third party who then performs the decommissioning work before the license is terminated and the site released for unrestricted use. The working group was tasked with identifying potential regulatory gaps or policy issues related to adequate financial assurances and making recommendations to address them.

The NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safety and Safeguards recently issued two Information Notices (INs) in response to medical events arising from the administration of radiopharmaceuticals.

The first IN alerts medical-use licensees to four strontium (Sr)-82/rubidium (Rb)-82 generator elution events that resulted in patients receiving concentrations of Sr-82 and Sr-85 in excess of regulatory requirements. The IN describes four separate events in which approximately 90 patients were administered Rb-82 chloride for cardiac imaging that contained Sr-82 and Sr-85 concentrations in excess of the regulatory limits identified in 10 CFR § 35.204. In evaluating these events, the NRC found that:

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a final rule in the Federal Register on January 15 updating the maximum amounts of civil monetary penalties it can impose. The final rule revises 10 CFR 2.205(j) to increase the maximum penalty the NRC can issue from $298,211 to $303,471 per violation, per day, an increase of 1.764%. Similarly, the final rule revises 10 CFR 13.3 to increase the amount of a civil penalty under the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act from $11,463 to $11,665. These monetary penalty amounts go into effect immediately and can be assessed regardless of whether the violation occurred before or after January 15.

As we previously reported regarding last year’s revisions to the civil monetary amounts, the NRC is required by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, to annually adjust the amounts of the civil monetary penalties for inflation in accordance with a statutory formula set forth in the legislation. The NRC last updated the maximum amount of civil penalties in February 2019.