As anticipated in our September 3 blog, the NRC on September 16 published in the Federal Register a proposed rule and request for comment regarding its amendment of 10 CFR Part 26, “Fitness for Duty Programs” (FFD). We reported on the Commission’s approval of the rulemaking and the NRC Staff’s Draft Regulatory Analysis and Backfitting and Issue Finality.

In recap, the purpose of this rulemaking is to align more closely the NRC’s drug testing program with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’s) 2008 “Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing” (the 2008 Guidelines). The major provisions of this proposed rule would

The NRC will soon issue in the Federal Register a proposed rulemaking to amend the drug testing requirements of the Fitness for Duty (FFD) Program in 10 CFR Part 26. The proposed rule seeks to align the NRC’s drug testing requirements in Part 26 with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’s) 2008 Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs (the 2008 Guidelines). The NRC is expected to publish the proposed rule in the coming weeks, but the draft rule with comments from the Commission is available, as well as the NRC Staff’s Draft Regulatory Analysis and Backfitting and Issue Finality.

The NRC last updated its drug testing requirements in March 2008, but HHS did not issue the 2008 Guidelines until November 2008. The NRC Staff decided to forgo another round of rulemaking to align Part 26 with the 2008 Guidelines in such close succession. Instead, the NRC Staff worked with the industry to institute a voluntary reporting system for FFD testing violations. The NRC Staff also began evaluating the effectiveness of the drug testing program changes implemented under the 2008 Guidelines. In February 2017, the NRC Staff sought Commission approval to publish a proposed rule to align the NRC’s FFD drug testing program with the 2008 Guidelines. The Commission approved this request in May 2019, subject to certain changes to the draft rule.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, by a 3-1 vote on August 7, agreed with the NRC Staff’s recommendation to discontinue a rulemaking on third-party arbitration of access authorization and fitness-for-duty determinations. The decision leaves admitted ambiguity, including a potential enforcement risk in the event that a licensee reinstates an individual’s revoked access authorization or a fitness-for-duty determination.

As we last reported on April 24, the NRC Staff recommended in SECY-19-0033 to withdraw a rulemaking begun in 2015 to revise the NRC’s regulations regarding whether a third-party arbitrator could review a licensee’s access authorization or fitness-for-duty decisions. In SRM-SECY-19-0033, the Commission agreed with that recommendation.

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.

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.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff is proposing to discontinue a rulemaking relating to third-party reviews of fitness-for-duty (FFD) and access authorization (AA) determinations. The NRC staff announced this proposal when it released reference material on October 1 in advance of an upcoming November 1 public meeting on the rulemaking. Rather than completing the rulemaking, the NRC staff proposes to “update NRC guidance to describe acceptable means of achieving an appeal process, including arbitration” to resolve disputes regarding FFD and AA denials and revocations. One thing this latest NRC action leaves unclear is how licensees required by an arbitrator to reinstate an individual previously found not to be trustworthy or reliable will be impacted under the NRC regulations and enforcement policy.

On August 15, for the first time, a US court of appeals ruled that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) fitness-for-duty (FFD) and physical protection regulations trump certain employee protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in McNelis v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Company reaffirms the priority placed on NRC requirements designed to protect public health and safety.

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On March 1, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released a report from the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) titled “Audit of NRC’s Oversight of Security at Decommissioning Reactors.”

As noted in the report, as of February 2017, there are 20 nuclear reactors undergoing decommissioning in the United States, and four other plants have advised NRC of their intent to cease operations by 2019. The objective of the audit was to determine whether NRC’s oversight of security at these decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures and systems. While somewhat light on details, OIG found that NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection—with two areas for improvement related to fitness-for-duty and fatigue management.