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.

Public comments made last week by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese before the American Nuclear Society indicate that the agency is working with other federal government officials to identify power plants that are “absolutely critical” to the grid, E&E News reported.

Read the full post on Power & Pipes.

As we reported last month, on June 20, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) initiated the rulemaking process to revise its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)–implementing regulations by publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register. The ANPR seeks public comments on “potential revisions to update the regulations and ensure a more efficient, timely, and effective NEPA process consistent with the national environmental policy stated in NEPA.” On July 11, the CEQ announced that it is extending the comment period, which was scheduled to close on July 20, for 31 days until August 20, 2018, in response to public requests for a time extension. See 83 Fed. Reg. 32,071 (July 11, 2018). The Federal Register notices also provide instructions for filing comments on the ANPR.

In a June 26 letter, a broad coalition of 77 former government officials, lawmakers, and industry leaders urged US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to take “concrete steps” to prevent the premature shutdown of any additional nuclear power plants.

The letter commends Secretary Perry’s support of the nuclear industry to date but asks him to specifically promote the national security significance of nuclear energy. In doing so, the letter underscores the key role that nuclear energy plays in national security, particularly as an essential component of electric grid resilience and the largest source of emission-free generation.

The letter acknowledges that discussions of the general importance of nuclear energy are underway at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as at the grid operator and state regulator levels, but asserts that only DOE has the power to integrate nuclear power into the broader national security imperatives. The letter notes that such an integration will take time to consider, but asks Secretary Perry to ensure that no more nuclear power plants are closed in the meantime.

This letter appears to support President Donald Trump’s June 1 request for DOE to take measures to prevent further closures of nuclear power plants due to a national security interest in securing the national power grid's resilience.

We reported last month that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the US federal agency responsible for coordinating and overseeing federal agency implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), had signaled its intention to update the CEQ’s longstanding NEPA-implementing regulations (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508). On June 20, the CEQ initiated the rulemaking process by publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register (83 Fed. Reg. 28,591). The ANPR seeks public comments “on potential revisions to update the regulations and ensure a more efficient, timely, and effective NEPA process consistent with the national environmental policy stated in NEPA.” The deadline for comments is July 20, 2018.