KEY TRENDS IN LAW AND POLICY REGARDING
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
The NRC commissioners unanimously approved on January 23, 2023 the publication of a proposed rule to update the NRC’s environmental regulations in Part 51 and issue a draft update to the NRC’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (the GEIS) to encompass both initial and subsequent license renewal (SLR). This rulemaking, when complete, will resolve the dispute about whether 10 CFR 51.53(c)(3) and the GEIS apply to SLR, and will allow the environmental review of pending SLR applications that rely on the GEIS to resume. The proposed rule will soon be published in the Federal Register to allow for public comments on the proposed rule and draft GEIS.
The NRC recently issued a final rule in the Federal Register, along with a corresponding update to its Enforcement Policy, that updated the maximum amounts of civil monetary penalties it can impose for violations. Because these amounts are adjusted annually for inflation, the maximum civil penalties jumped for the second year in a row, reflecting the continued inflationary environment in the broader economy.
The NRC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) proposing a rule, “Alternatives to the Use of Credit Ratings,” that would amend its decommissioning financial assurance mechanisms in 10 CFR Part 30.
In a 2-1 vote, NRC Commissioners have approved a new approach for evaluating where reactors can be sited in the United States, opening the door to siting advanced reactors in more densely populated areas than has been allowed for large, light-water reactors.
It’s getting harder to send anything from the US to Russia, including radioactive materials and nuclear-related equipment. Below are some recent examples of actions that the US government has taken to clamp down on nuclear trade with Russia. In this ever-changing geopolitical landscape, exporters must maintain export compliance vigilance for the items and technology they export.
The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report, analyzing regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2021. The report’s top-line numbers show that allegations increased approximately 40% from 2020. The broad-based increase spanned reactor and materials licensees, as well as their vendors.
The NRC staff recently provided the Commission with their annual Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) Self-Assessment for Calendar Year 2021 (SECY-22-0029). These annual self-assessments have been part of the ROP since the ROP was implemented in 2000 and are used by the Commission, the NRC staff, and stakeholders to monitor the performance of the ROP and identify areas for improvement.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced on April 19 that it is now accepting sealed bids from reactor owners and operators to receive initial credits under the Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNCP). Concurrent with this announcement, DOE issued guidance to assist applicants in preparing the sealed bids.
The NRC staff recently released its long-awaited policy paper on Environmental Justice (EJ) reform at the agency (SECY-22-0025, “Systematic Review of How Agency Programs, Policies, and Activities Address Environmental Justice”). The staff’s retrospective review found that current NRC EJ efforts are fully consistent with applicable law. Nevertheless, they provided a series of recommendations and commitments for Commission consideration.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued SRM-SECY-21-0107, in which it approved the NRC Staff’s recommendation to delegate authority to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) Panel—the independent trial-level adjudicatory body of the NRC—to conduct “mandatory” hearings for certain types of construction permit applications. However, the Commission also noted its intent to conduct such hearings itself in certain first-of-a-kind proceedings.