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Over the past few days, several civic and environmental organizations have requested that federal departments and agencies pause rulemaking activities in response to the worsening coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The NRC’s Reactor Decommissioning Financial Assurance Working Group recently held a public meeting to receive comments on potential guidance updates before publishing its final report. Prior to the public meeting, the working group shared a presentation summarizing its findings and proposals.

As background, the working group was established in September 2019 to review the NRC’s current decommissioning financial assurance processes in response to the growing use of third-party decommissioning business models. In general, this business model has the licensee sell its assets, including the decommissioning trust fund, and transfer its license—either temporarily or permanently—to a third party who then performs the decommissioning work before the license is terminated and the site released for unrestricted use. The working group was tasked with identifying potential regulatory gaps or policy issues related to adequate financial assurances and making recommendations to address them.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on October 11 issued its consent to the transfer of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station (Vermont Yankee) from Entergy Corporation (Entergy) to NorthStar Group Services, Inc. (NorthStar). The transfer paves the way for the accelerated decommissioning of Vermont Yankee, which could be completed as early as 2026.

Just as importantly for the nuclear industry as a whole, the NRC’s consent to the proposed transfer signals for the first time its willingness to consent to a transfer of a nuclear power plant license where: (1) title to the spent fuel is transferred to the new owner; and (2) spent fuel management costs will be recovered in a future settlement of litigation with the US Department of Energy (DOE). These are new precedents that have significant implications for future transfers of shutdown plants.

The Atomic Energy Act retains an outdated restriction that prohibits foreign ownership, control or domination (FOCD) of commercial reactor licenses. Foreign companies have been able to make substantial investments in US commercial reactor assets, but because of the current restriction, they are effectively required to partner with a US company that exercises “control” over the assets.

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