As part of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) efforts to create efficiencies in its enforcement process, the NRC Commissioners unanimously approved a staff proposal to change Section 4.1 of the NRC’s Enforcement Policy. Under this approved change, the NRC will not typically consider fitness-for-duty (FFD) drug and alcohol violations involving non-licensed individuals for enforcement action. But the NRC will still investigate if there are apparent deficiencies in a licensee’s FFD program itself or the program’s implementation. Thus, to avoid enforcement actions in the future, licensees must continue to maintain an effective FFD program for drug and alcohol violations.
As we last reported on October 5, 2018, the NRC Staff appeared ready to recommend withdrawing a rulemaking on third-party arbitration of access authorization and fitness-for-duty determinations. On April 4, 2019, the NRC Staff formally made its recommendation in SECY-19-0033. In so doing, the NRC Staff “request[ed] Commission approval to discontinue the rulemaking activity, ‘Access Authorization and Fitness-for-Duty Determinations’,” which began nearly four years ago. As previously reported, this rulemaking activity was a response to a 2012 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in which the court determined that NRC regulations permitted third-party arbitration of unescorted access determinations. At that time, the NRC Staff disagreed with the decision and asked for Commission approval to begin a rulemaking.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) approved applications submitted by PSEG Nuclear LLC seeking subsidies of up to $300 million annually, in the form of zero emission credits (ZECs), for PSEG’s Hope Creek and Salem 1 and 2 nuclear generating stations on April 18. The PSEG applications were filed on December 19, 2018, after New Jersey enacted legislation on May 23, 2018, establishing a ZEC program for the state (the ZEC Act).
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Office of Investigations Annual Report FY 2018. The report provides an overview of OI’s activities during the previous fiscal year and shows that OI opened 12% fewer cases than in 2017. Of the 101 cases opened in FY 2018, 40% were discrimination cases, a 4% increase from FY 2017. “Discrimination” in this context refers to retaliation for engaging in protected activities established in Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended. Discrimination has remained the largest case category for the past three years. Material false statement investigations reflect 16% of the cases OI opened in FY 2018, a 4% decrease from FY 2017. Investigations into other alleged violations of NRC regulations reflect 27% of the cases OI opened in FY 2018, and investigations opened to provide assistance to the NRC staff reflect 18% of the cases OI opened in FY 2018.
A bipartisan group of four senators has introduced a bill that would amend the Atomic Energy Act to require the US Department of Energy (DOE) to submit to Congress quarterly reports providing information about industry’s and DOE’s activities under 10 CFR Part 810. The first part of the bill suggests that DOE would only report to Congress on “each authorization issued” under Part 810, which suggests that DOE could limit its reporting to specific authorizations that DOE actually granted in the prior 90 days.
However, the remainder of the bill states that DOE would provide Congress with a summary of each application for a Part 810 specific authorization and an annex that contains: 1) a copy of the specific authorization application; and 2) a copy of each report received in the previous 90 days for any general or specific authorization. The bill also would require that the initial quarterly report include all specific authorizations granted and all generally—and specifically—authorized activities reported from March 25, 2015, through the date of enactment. (March 25, 2015, is the date that the most recent wholesale revisions to Part 810 went into effect.) Subsequent reports to Congress would be due every 90 days thereafter and cover the activities during those 90 days.
The NRC recently took the somewhat unusual step of issuing a Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) to clarify reporting requirements for certain exports. Issued on March 15, the RIS explains that its issuance was prompted by recent confusion among nuclear exporters regarding potentially overlapping reporting obligations. The RIS requires no action or written response from the nuclear industry.
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.