The NRC, with the approval of the US attorney general, recently published a second revision to its guidelines on the use of weapons by licensee security personnel whose official duties include the protection of designated facilities, certain radioactive material or other licensee property, and licensee material or property that is being transported to or from a licensee facility. The changes were made to ensure consistency with existing FBI procedures on appeals of background check delays or denials. The updated guidelines were published in the Federal Register on March 8, 2019, and took effect the same day.

The NRC issued an update to Management Directive 8.11 (MD 8.11), Review Process for 10 C.F.R. § 2.206 Petitions on March 1, culminating an on-again, off-again review process that began almost a decade ago. In issuing the updated MD 8.11, the NRC also issued a corresponding update to Directive Handbook 8.11 (DH 8.11), but pushed the detailed staff guidance that was previously in MD 8.11 to a publicly available Desktop Guide. In short, the review process in the updated MD 8.11 and DH 8.11 is not markedly different from the prior versions, but the changes also reduce some of the opportunities for licensees to directly seek clarification from a petitioner about the issue being raised and allow the NRC staff to “save” what might otherwise be deficient petitions. The updated MD 8.11 also does not resolve questions as to whether the ability to submit a Section 2.206 petition is restricted to only external stakeholders.

In a rare legal challenge related to fees the NRC charges nuclear licensees for its services, the US Court of Federal Claims recently held that the costs of certain NRC services provided in connection with Confirmatory Orders (COs) are not recoverable via hourly bills to individual licensees. The court held that COs are essentially enforcement orders, and thus cannot be viewed as conveying an “individual benefit” to licensees.

The US government is continuing to find ways to help our nuclear industry compete in the global market. In a speech on February 26, the assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Dr. Christopher Ford, announced a new policy: the US government would seek to negotiate and enter into “nuclear cooperation memoranda of understanding,” or NCMOUs, with foreign countries who do not yet have 123 Agreements with the United States, as a tool to develop new opportunities to “advance U.S. strategic competitiveness.” While Dr. Ford’s speech lacks details of what the terms of an NCMOU will be or which countries the United States will seek to partner with, the creative focus on supporting US nuclear trade is a welcome development.

At the end of January, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a complete rewrite of Inspection Manual Chapter (IMC) 1240 on unescorted access authorization for NRC employees and contractors. The most major change from the prior version is that the NRC will no longer issue letters to licensees requesting unescorted access for NRC employees. Instead, the NRC will implement and maintain a Site Access List that identifies NRC employees and contractors whom the NRC has certified for unescorted access. Consistent with this change, the revised inspection manual chapter provides information on how the NRC will determine the suitability of its employees and contractors for unescorted access. The revisions also change how behavioral observation and fitness for duty programs apply to NRC employees and contractors and how they should be reported.

In January, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) staff hosted a public meeting with industry representatives to discuss the staff’s progress in reviewing recommendations for the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) framework enhancement initiative. The objectives of the ROP enhancement initiative are to evaluate whether the baseline inspection program remains relevant for the current environment, eliminate redundant or unnecessary inspection areas, maximize efficient and effective use of resources, and incorporate flexibility in program implementation, where appropriate.

In 2018, the NRC solicited ideas for enhancing the ROP, which resulted in an industry proposal based on four points: US fleet maturity, improved safety margins, improved risk assessments, and greater use of risk-informed decisionmaking. Part of this proposal includes redefining labels for findings and combining Columns 1 and 2 of the Action Matrix. If the industry proposal prevails, it would mark a paradigm shift, considering Columns 1 and 2 have been in existence since the pilot program for ROP enhancement was introduced in 1999. As was stated at the public meeting, combining Columns 1 and 2 would be a long-term change. A proposal to remove Section 71152 of the Inspection Procedure, for problem identification and resolution, was also raised at the meeting but was generally dismissed.

This blog post is the first in a series that will track further progress on the ROP enhancement initiative.

On January 31, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a proposed rule to revise the professional hourly rate and flat licensing fees charged to licensees and applicants under 10 CFR Parts 170 and 171. Congress requires the NRC to recover 90% of its operating budget from fees, but certain new activities this year are excluded from that fee recovery requirement. For example, fees for advanced reactors will be carved out from the 90% fee recovery. Despite the carve-outs, NRC fees for each operating reactor will increase by approximately $330,000 (or 7.3%) from FY 2018.

A divided Commission at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on January 24 approved the Mitigation of Beyond-Design-Basis Events rulemaking (Final Rule). The NRC began the rulemaking in December 2016 as part of its efforts to evaluate and implement, if necessary, regulatory changes in response to the Fukushima Daichi event in March 2011. In somewhat of a surprise, the majority of Commissioners last week rejected large portions of the proposed rule submitted by the NRC staff over two years ago. The rationale for changing the Final Rule demonstrates a renewed emphasis on applying backfit analyses.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a revised version of Inspection Manual Chapter (IMC) 0620 (Inspection Documents and Records) on January 28. These revisions add clarifying guidance on marking, handling, and transmitting—internally and externally—inspection documents and records to ensure that all such materials are appropriately controlled and handled by NRC inspectors. These revisions could affect how the NRC Staff maintains and shares NRC inspection documents and records.

It is a fairly common misperception that operating nuclear power plants in the United States depress local property values. This assumption was refuted in recent regulatory proceedings in the Northeast, where detailed studies of local real estate records confirmed earlier studies finding no adverse impact on the property value of homes in proximity to a nuclear power facility or its associated spent fuel. Specifically, perceptions of risk and stigma associated with operating nuclear facilities do not appear to translate into market behavior in the form of a reduction of home sale prices in the vicinity of such facilities. In fact, those studies suggest there may be a positive impact on surrounding communities in the form of reduced residential property taxes for a given level of public expenditures. In practice, it seems that home buyers and sellers are far more pragmatic in their decisions.