A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Kentucky issued an indictment against an individual for transportation of radioactive material generated from fracking activities without compliance with US Department of Transportation hazardous materials regulations. The indictment comes on the heels of increasing focus at the state and federal levels on the safe disposal of so-called “TENORM” wastes, i.e., technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material wastes that are generated as a result of certain mining and manufacturing activities, including hydraulic drilling or “fracking.” The indictment highlights the need for companies to plan for the disposal of TENORM generated during their operations, including performing appropriate due diligence on any contractors they may engage to assist with disposal.
The comment period for the NRC’s draft Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) on true identity verification requirements closed on June 15, 2020. The industry had asked for and received a 45-day extension from the original April 30 deadline to provide comments. As we previously reported, the draft RIS purports to “clarify” licensees’ requirements pursuant to 10 CFR § 73.56(d)(3) to verify the “true identity” of nonimmigrant foreign nationals who are granted unescorted access to nuclear power plants. Comments from the nuclear industry on the draft RIS strongly disagreed with the guidance and emphasized that the guidance “would substantially expand the existing requirement to verify the true identity of non-immigrant foreign nationals.” The industry suggests that the guidance should not be finalized because the draft RIS’s interpretation is unsupported by the language of the regulation and because the NRC did not conduct a backfit analysis under 10 CFR § 50.109. It remains to be seen, however, whether the NRC will be persuaded by the industry’s comments.
The NRC’s Office of Enforcement (OE) recently issued Attachment 2 to Enforcement Guidance Memorandum (EGM) 20-002, providing guidance to NRC inspection staff for exercising enforcement discretion for certain byproduct material licensees that suspended their use of licensed material and are maintaining the licensed material in safe storage because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE). Table 1 of Attachment 2 lists the specific regulatory requirements of 10 CFR Parts 30-36 and 39 that qualify for enforcement discretion if licensees meet all five conditions discussed below.
The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report analyzing regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2019. The report shows a decrease of almost 50% in total allegations between 2015 and 2019. The cover letter to the report attributes this decrease to “[i]ncreased focus by the [NRC] and licensees on maintaining environments for raising concerns.” Notwithstanding this, allegations of chilled work environments and discrimination for raising safety concerns make up the vast majority of allegations among reactor sites.
The NRC Office of Enforcement recently published its Enforcement Program Annual Report for calendar year 2019, revealing that the total number of enforcement actions in 2019 remained below the five-year average but increased slightly compared to 2018. Notwithstanding the modest increase in enforcement actions, the report also highlights the NRC’s continuing focus on investigating and taking enforcement action in response to licensee and individual misconduct, including retaliation against workers for raising nuclear safety concerns. In this regard, the NRC issued 57 escalated enforcement actions in 2019, a 27% increase from 2018.
Escalated enforcement actions include any notices of violation (NOVs) of Severity Level III or higher issued to a licensee, NOVs associated with a red, yellow, or white finding under the NRC’s significance determination process (SDP), civil penalty actions, and enforcement orders, including confirmatory orders.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Staff issued SECY-20-0034 on April 22, informing the NRC Commissioners of the Staff’s plan to exercise enforcement discretion for licensee noncompliance with regulatory requirements resulting from illnesses or other factors caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE). The Staff’s approach applies to all classes of licensees and provides long-awaited guidance on the subject of enforcement discretion.
The NRC’s Office of Enforcement (OE) recently issued Enforcement Guidance Memorandum (EGM) 20-002, providing guidance to NRC inspection staff for exercising enforcement discretion for licensees impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This enforcement discretion applies to licensee implementation of the training and requalification requirements for security personnel covered by 10 CFR Part 73, Appendix B. Specific enforcement guidance accompanies the EGM in an attachment.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) issued a letter on April 14 to provide guidance on reactor operator licensing requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Specifically, the letter provides “guidance for seeking exemptions from certain requalification program requirements,” including requalification program scheduling, licensed operator active status for research and test reactors, and delays in completion of medical examinations.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a letter on April 7 to all NRC licensees authorized to possess byproduct, source, and special nuclear material – excluding operating power reactor and research test reactor licensees – outlining how those licensees might seek relief from certain regulatory requirements as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The letter provides that the NRC may grant exemptions from its regulations and amendments to license conditions and technical specification when applicable criteria are met. Should a licensee anticipate that it will be unable to comply with a regulatory requirement, the licensee should contact the NRC as soon as possible thereafter to request an exemption or other relief. The NRC will review such requests on a case-by-case basis, may grant those requests for a specific period of time, and, where it does so, may require compensatory measures.
The NRC published notice of a draft Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) (previously published in ADAMS) in the Federal Register on March 31. The draft RIS purports to “clarify” licensees’ requirements pursuant to 10 CFR § 73.56(d)(3) to verify the “true identity” of non-immigrant foreign nationals who are granted unescorted access to nuclear power plants. The NRC issued the RIS to “reinforce” its “expectation” that licensees verify that non-immigrant foreign employees have the correct visa category to perform assigned work inside the nuclear power plant protected area as part of the unescorted access process. Despite the NRC’s claim that the RIS does not transmit any new requirement, the NRC’s position, if unchanged, will likely require licensees to revise their procedures and provide additional training to unescorted access personnel regarding the NRC’s expectations for what is now required to confirm true identity or face additional regulatory scrutiny. The NRC requests in the Federal Register Notice that all comments on the draft RIS be submitted by April 30, 2020.