The US Department of Energy (DOE) is requesting comments on whether there is a sufficient supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo‑99) to meet medical needs without the export of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the United States. Comments are due by December 27, 2019. The comments will support a certification that the secretary of Energy must submit in early 2020 pursuant to the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-239, 126 Stat. 2211 (the Act). The content of this certification will determine whether the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will have authority to issue HEU export licenses for Mo-99 production in foreign research and test reactors.

According to the notice in the November 27 Federal Register, “Historically, the United States has not had the capability to produce Mo-99 domestically and, until 2018, imported 100 percent of its supply from international producers, some of which was produced using targets fabricated with proliferation sensitive HEU.” Congress passed the Act as part of a decades-long effort to ensure domestic availability of Mo‑99, which is used in medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. According to the notice, approximately 80% of all of these procedures depend on the use of technetium-99, a decay product of Mo-99. Importantly, Section 3174 of the Act amended the Atomic Energy Act to prohibit the NRC from issuing licenses to export HEU from the United States for purposes of medical isotope production, effective seven years from the date of enactment of the Act. The Act became law on January 2, 2013, and thus the ban on NRC export licenses is scheduled to go into effect in early 2020, unless it is extended through a certification from the Energy secretary.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) in the October 3 Federal Register to establish procedures for imposing civil monetary penalties for violations of 10 CFR Part 810 (Part 810). Notably, DOE also proposes a maximum penalty, per violation, of $102,522. If DOE views a violation as a continuing one, then each day from when the violating activity began to when it stopped would constitute a separate violation for purposes of computing the penalty. Comments on the NOPR are due by November 4, 2019.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a final rule in the August 2 Federal Register that revises DOE’s Contractor Employee Protection Program. The program appears in 10 CFR Part 708 (Part 708) and extends employee protections to employees of DOE contractors and subcontractors modeled after the protections for federal employees that appear in the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 USC §§ 1201 et seq. DOE’s Office of Administrative Appeals (OHA) administers the Part 708 program. We previously reported on the proposed rule, and the final rule largely adopts the changes laid out in the proposed rule. Key changes include the following:

To address national security interests and prevent the unauthorized transfer of scientific and technical information to certain foreign entities, the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued Order No. 486.1 on June 7. The order prohibits DOE employees and contractors from participating in certain “talent recruitment programs” – specifically “talent recruitment programs” of foreign governments determined by the DOE to be a “foreign country of risk.” DOE contractors and subcontractors within the utility and nuclear sectors should be prepared to implement controls to ensure that neither they nor their employees or subcontractors participate in these foreign-sponsored programs for identified countries, which apparently include China and Russia.

Read more about the new DOE order and what contractors and subcontractors should know.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Supplemental Federal Register Notice on June 5 that addresses its interpretation of what constitutes high-level radioactive waste (HLW). The DOE said the notice reflects DOE policy modifications informed by public comments it received during the 90-day public comment period after it issued the initial Federal Register Notice on October 10, 2018. DOE stated that it received roughly 360 distinct, unrepeated comments from a variety of stakeholders: members of the public, Native American tribes, members of Congress, numerous state and local governments, and one federal agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently published proposed changes to its Contractor Employee Protection Program in the Federal Register. DOE’s Contractor Employee Protection Program appears in 10 C.F.R. Part 708 (Part 708) and extends employee protections to employees of DOE contractors and subcontractors modeled after the protections for federal employees that appear in the Whistleblower Protection Act (5 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq.).

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.

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.

A partial government shutdown currently looms on the horizon. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), however, has a budget funded through FY 2019, so it would not be impacted if the government shuts down.

The NRC did experience the effects of a federal government shutdown in 2013. Then, the NRC furloughed 3,600 of 3,900 staff members. The 300 essential personnel who stayed on included about 150 resident inspectors. All public meetings were suspended, and Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearings were postponed. However, the Inspector General’s Office, as well as the NRC’s hotline for safety and security concerns, continued to function.

In a Federal Register Notice issued September 24, the NRC has implemented an inflation adjustment to the amount of Price-Anderson financial protection that is available effective November 1, 2018. The inflation adjustment is mandated every five years under the terms of the Price-Anderson Act, as amended (Section 170 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954). The maximum total deferred premium will be increased from $121.255 million to $131.056 million, per operating reactor, per incident. The maximum annual assessment will be increased from $18.963 million to $20.496 million, per operating reactor, per incident.