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 US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a letter including frequently asked questions (FAQs) on April 7 to all Agreement and non-Agreement States to address the NRC’s regulation of nuclear materials—and its policies and recent activities related thereto—in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The NRC posted a copy of the FAQs to its password-protected Materials Security Toolbox and intends to update that site “as additional information becomes available.”
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.
The NRC’s Office of Enforcement (OE) recently issued an enforcement guidance memorandum (EGM) to reinforce the NRC’s Enforcement Policy (Policy) and earlier guidance on identifying and documenting findings and associated violations in inspection reports. The need for this EGM arose after OE became “aware that some inspection staff may be misinterpreting and misapplying” the Policy and guidance by documenting all issues of concern, regardless of significance.
The EGM rejects that inspection staff misinterpretation and makes it clear that the inspection program is not meant to document all findings (and associated violations). Instead, inspection findings and associated violations are to be identified and documented as specified in the Inspection Manual, which follows the Policy and earlier OE guidance. OE reinforcement of this violation documentation policy provides licensees with a basis for challenging inspector inclusion of low-level, non-safety-significant findings or violations in an inspection report.
The NRC issued an update to Management Directive 8.11 (MD 8.11), Review Process for 10 C.F.R. § 2.206 Petitions on March 1, culminating an on-again, off-again review process that began almost a decade ago. In issuing the updated MD 8.11, the NRC also issued a corresponding update to Directive Handbook 8.11 (DH 8.11), but pushed the detailed staff guidance that was previously in MD 8.11 to a publicly available Desktop Guide. In short, the review process in the updated MD 8.11 and DH 8.11 is not markedly different from the prior versions, but the changes also reduce some of the opportunities for licensees to directly seek clarification from a petitioner about the issue being raised and allow the NRC staff to “save” what might otherwise be deficient petitions. The updated MD 8.11 also does not resolve questions as to whether the ability to submit a Section 2.206 petition is restricted to only external stakeholders.
In a rare legal challenge related to fees the NRC charges nuclear licensees for its services, the US Court of Federal Claims recently held that the costs of certain NRC services provided in connection with Confirmatory Orders (COs) are not recoverable via hourly bills to individual licensees. The court held that COs are essentially enforcement orders, and thus cannot be viewed as conveying an “individual benefit” to licensees.
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) issued a revised version of Inspection Manual Chapter (IMC) 0620 (Inspection Documents and Records) on January 28. These revisions add clarifying guidance on marking, handling, and transmitting—internally and externally—inspection documents and records to ensure that all such materials are appropriately controlled and handled by NRC inspectors. These revisions could affect how the NRC Staff maintains and shares NRC inspection documents and records.