The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a letter including frequently asked questions (FAQs) on April 7 to all Agreement and non-Agreement States to address the NRC’s regulation of nuclear materials—and its policies and recent activities related thereto—in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The NRC posted a copy of the FAQs to its password-protected Materials Security Toolbox and intends to update that site “as additional information becomes available.”

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a letter on April 7 to all NRC licensees authorized to possess byproduct, source, and special nuclear material – excluding operating power reactor and research test reactor licensees – outlining how those licensees might seek relief from certain regulatory requirements as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Exemption Requests

The letter provides that the NRC may grant exemptions from its regulations and amendments to license conditions and technical specification when applicable criteria are met. Should a licensee anticipate that it will be unable to comply with a regulatory requirement, the licensee should contact the NRC as soon as possible thereafter to request an exemption or other relief. The NRC will review such requests on a case-by-case basis, may grant those requests for a specific period of time, and, where it does so, may require compensatory measures.

As we recently reported, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is prepared to grant exemptions to the work-hour controls in 10 CFR 26.205(d)(1)-(7) if the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency affects a licensee’s staffing for workers who fall within the scope of Part 26. On April 2, the NRC held a teleconference with industry representatives and members of the public to discuss the exemption process as a follow-up to its March 28, 2020, guidance letter sent to power reactor licensees. The meeting also discussed its Temporary Staff Guidance (Guidance) issued on April 1, 2020, by the NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR). This Guidance, which also was shared with the public, provides the NRC’s anticipated process for its review of Part 26-related exemption requests.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued internal guidance on March 30 regarding potential discussions with licensees and offsite response organizations (OROs) related to the postponement and rescheduling of radiological emergency preparedness (REP) exercises due to the worsening coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The guidance provides that, although licensees and their respective OROs have the lead in scheduling and conducting REP exercises and may postpone and/or reschedule those exercises without prior approval from either the NRC or FEMA, the regulators request that the licensees and OROs engage with their regional staffs as soon as reasonably possible for the necessary coordination regarding the rescheduling of those exercises.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) Advisory Committee on the Medical Uses of Isotopes (ACMUI) held a meeting on March 30 to discuss a variety of topics of interest, including recent trends in radiopharmaceuticals, the scope of “patient intervention” as occurrences that are not Medical Events. Below are some items of potential interest from these discussions.

The US Department of Labor (DOL) Administrative Review Board (ARB) recently issued a decision in the case of Evans v. US Environmental Protection Agency, ARB Case No. 2017-0008, ALJ Case No. 2008-CAA-00003 (ARB Mar. 17, 2020), dismissing a whistleblower complaint filed under various employee protection provisions and finding that the employer's actions against the complainant were reasonable and taken to ensure employee safety after the complainant threatened to bring a gun to work. The ARB’s decision is instructive for employers deciding how to respond to workplace threats and establishes that such actions—when reasonably based on the circumstances—will not be considered retaliatory. The ARB’s decision also addresses the legal standard for motions to dismiss a complaint before a hearing, and reinforces that for a concern to be protected, it must be grounded in a reasonably perceived violation.

Read our recent LawFlash detailing the key takeaways for energy companies from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law on March 27. Although the act does not expressly provide relief for energy companies, many of its provisions impact energy sector companies.

The NRC published notice of a draft Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) (previously published in ADAMS) in the Federal Register on March 31. The draft RIS purports to “clarify” licensees’ requirements pursuant to 10 CFR § 73.56(d)(3) to verify the “true identity” of non-immigrant foreign nationals who are granted unescorted access to nuclear power plants. The NRC issued the RIS to “reinforce” its “expectation” that licensees verify that non-immigrant foreign employees have the correct visa category to perform assigned work inside the nuclear power plant protected area as part of the unescorted access process. Despite the NRC’s claim that the RIS does not transmit any new requirement, the NRC’s position, if unchanged, will likely require licensees to revise their procedures and provide additional training to unescorted access personnel regarding the NRC’s expectations for what is now required to confirm true identity or face additional regulatory scrutiny. The NRC requests in the Federal Register Notice that all comments on the draft RIS be submitted by April 30, 2020.

A week after first issuing guidance identifying the workers considered essential for critical industries in the United States during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 28, 2020, revised that guidance to capture a broader array of workers, particularly in the energy sector.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that it is prepared to grant upon request from individual Part 50 licensees, exemptions to the work-hour controls specified in 10 CFR 26.205(d)(1)-(7).

This announcement followed a March 20 industry teleconference on workhour relief processes during which Office of Enforcement Director George Wilson indicated that a blanket Enforcement Guidance Memorandum (EGM) related to COVID-19 was in development with an attachment on work-hours. However, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Director Ho Nieh has instead issued a letter describing a streamlined process for exemptions to work-hour requirements. The NRC’s letter does not acknowledge or explain the significance of this departure from their original plan, including whether the agency still intends to issue an EGM at some point, and whether additional topics will be covered. To date, no EGM has been issued on this topic, but one may be in the future.