The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a final rule in the Federal Register on January 15 updating the maximum amounts of civil monetary penalties it can impose. The final rule revises 10 CFR 2.205(j) to increase the maximum penalty the NRC can issue from $298,211 to $303,471 per violation, per day, an increase of 1.764%. Similarly, the final rule revises 10 CFR 13.3 to increase the amount of a civil penalty under the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act from $11,463 to $11,665. These monetary penalty amounts go into effect immediately and can be assessed regardless of whether the violation occurred before or after January 15.

As we previously reported regarding last year’s revisions to the civil monetary amounts, the NRC is required by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, to annually adjust the amounts of the civil monetary penalties for inflation in accordance with a statutory formula set forth in the legislation. The NRC last updated the maximum amount of civil penalties in February 2019.

The NRC Staff held a public meeting on December 12 at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, to discuss subsequent license renewal (SLR) lessons learned. This was the second such meeting this year, with a third planned for early 2020.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss comprehensive lessons learned regarding key technical issues common to the first three SLR applications submitted to the agency for review and approval. Ultimately, the objective is to update and clarify NRC’s SLR regulatory guidance documents, capturing key lessons learned and further ensuring a review process that is both effective and efficient for future applicants. At the outset of the meeting, the NRC Staff made clear that the next planned meeting will focus on process-related improvements and lessons learned.

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 recently issued an allegation guidance memorandum (AGM) to provide guidance on the handling of certain drug and alcohol fitness-for-duty (FFD) violations. The AGM directs that licensee-identified drug and alcohol FFD violations by nonlicensed individuals not be processed in the NRC’s allegation program. This guidance took effect immediately and will be incorporated into the Allegation Manual. The next revision of Management Directive (MD) 8.8 will also incorporate this guidance by adding “Licensee-identified [FFD] drug- and alcohol-related violations by nonlicensed individuals” to the list of concerns excluded from the definition of an “allegation.”

The AGM is the result of changes to Section 4.1 of the NRC’s Enforcement Policy approved by the Commission on April 18, 2019. As we discussed at that time, an NRC Staff review found that for most FFD drug and alcohol violations, the licensees had identified the issue and conducted an internal investigation into the violation by the time the NRC received notification of the violation. Staff also found that licensees were imposing the penalties required by 10 CFR § 26.75 to appropriately disposition individual FFD drug and alcohol issues before most NRC investigations began.

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) announced on October 30 that the malware “Dtrack” had been found on the administrative network of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) in early September 2019. KKNPP is the largest nuclear power plant in India, equipped with two Russian-designed VVER pressurized water reactors, each with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Both reactor units feed southern India’s power grid.

On November 4, KKNPP issued a press release stating that its reactors are operating normally and emphasizing that all critical systems for KKNPP and other NPCIL plants are “air-gapped and impossible to hack.” The term “air-gapped” is often used in the cybersecurity context to describe isolated control processing technologies or systems that are not connected to the internet or external networks, and are therefore considered safe from cyberthreats.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) have been busy in recent weeks assessing issues related to the licensing of non-light water reactors (non-LWRs).

First, the NRC’s Division of Advanced Reactors transmitted a draft white paper titled “Non-Light Water Review Strategy” on September 30, 2019. As the title suggests, the white paper will “support the [NRC’s] review of applications for non-LWR designs submitted prior to the development of the technology-inclusive, risk-informed and performance-based regulatory framework . . . in 2027.” In so doing, the white paper describes both the contents of such applications and “an approach NRC staff may use to review the license basis information.”

Licensees are required to report certain medical events that meet the criteria defined in 10 CFR § 35.3045, Report and Notification of a Medical Event. Such reports allow the NRC to identify the causes of the events so as to prevent their recurrence and to notify other licensees so they can take action to prevent such events at their facilities. The NRC Staff and the Advisory Committee on the Medical Uses of Isotopes (ACMUI) perform annual reviews of medical event reports to identify trends, patterns, generic issues, and generic concerns, and to recognize any shortcomings related to specific equipment or procedures.

NRC Staff has made publicly available copies of Draft Regulatory Guide 1341, Standard Format and Content for Applications to Renew Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licenses, and a supporting Regulatory Analysis. Draft Regulatory Guide 1341 is intended to revise Regulatory Guide 1.188 (as Revision 2 thereto) to update references to other NRC license renewal guidance documents, and to expressly extend the guidance to applications for subsequent license renewal (SLR), i.e., the renewal of a reactor operating license for a second 20-year period, from 60 years to 80 years. The revised guidance document would provide applicants with a method to demonstrate compliance with the 10 CFR Part 54 requirements for both initial license renewal and SLR applications. Three SLR applications currently are under review by the NRC Staff, and others are expected to be submitted in the future.

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.