As we recently reported, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is prepared to grant exemptions to the work-hour controls in 10 CFR 26.205(d)(1)-(7) if the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency affects a licensee’s staffing for workers who fall within the scope of Part 26. On April 2, the NRC held a teleconference with industry representatives and members of the public to discuss the exemption process as a follow-up to its March 28, 2020, guidance letter sent to power reactor licensees. The meeting also discussed its Temporary Staff Guidance (Guidance) issued on April 1, 2020, by the NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR). This Guidance, which also was shared with the public, provides the NRC’s anticipated process for its review of Part 26-related exemption requests.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued internal guidance on March 30 regarding potential discussions with licensees and offsite response organizations (OROs) related to the postponement and rescheduling of radiological emergency preparedness (REP) exercises due to the worsening coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The guidance provides that, although licensees and their respective OROs have the lead in scheduling and conducting REP exercises and may postpone and/or reschedule those exercises without prior approval from either the NRC or FEMA, the regulators request that the licensees and OROs engage with their regional staffs as soon as reasonably possible for the necessary coordination regarding the rescheduling of those exercises.

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.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that it is prepared to grant upon request from individual Part 50 licensees, exemptions to the work-hour controls specified in 10 CFR 26.205(d)(1)-(7).

This announcement followed a March 20 industry teleconference on workhour relief processes during which Office of Enforcement Director George Wilson indicated that a blanket Enforcement Guidance Memorandum (EGM) related to COVID-19 was in development with an attachment on work-hours. However, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Director Ho Nieh has instead issued a letter describing a streamlined process for exemptions to work-hour requirements. The NRC’s letter does not acknowledge or explain the significance of this departure from their original plan, including whether the agency still intends to issue an EGM at some point, and whether additional topics will be covered. To date, no EGM has been issued on this topic, but one may be in the future.

The NRC recently released draft NUREG-1409, Backfitting Guidelines, Revision 1 for public comment. NUREG-1409 was last revised in July 1990. This is another step in a string of actions taken by the NRC to better ensure the NRC’s application of the Backfit Rule consistent with its intent. This revision is intended to compliment modifications made to Management Directive (MD) 8.4, approved by the Commission on September 20, 2019.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Office of Investigations Annual Report FY 2019, providing an overview of OI’s activities during the previous fiscal year. The report shows that OI opened 21% fewer cases in 2019 than in 2018, continuing the downward trend of the last 10 years.

Notably, OI Director Andy Shuttleworth identified two important factors contributing to the decline: “(1) the number of operational reactors and (2) the operating experience of the reactor operators.” Interestingly, Director Shuttleworth also referenced the possibility of the agency making other unspecified use of its collection of information gathered by OI agents.

In SECY 20-0020, issued on February 28, the NRC Staff informed the Commission of its conclusion that developing a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) for advanced nuclear reactors (ANRs) is viable.

The SECY paper explains that the exploratory process for developing a GEIS for ANRs “focused on a non-light-water reactor that generates an output of approximately 30 Mwt [megawatts thermal] or less.” Although the scope is currently limited, the NRC Staff expects that the GEIS could expand to eventually include other types of ANRs with higher power levels.

The director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Office of Enforcement (OE) issued Enforcement Guidance Memorandum (EGM) 2020-001, “Enforcement Discretion Not to Cite Certain Violations of 10 CFR 73.56 Requirements” on February 13. The purpose of the EGM is to formalize that the NRC will not cite certain “violations” of 10 CFR 73.56(d)(3) based on an updated interpretation of what that regulation requires regarding confirmation of “true identity” when granting access authorization.

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 NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safety and Safeguards recently issued two Information Notices (INs) in response to medical events arising from the administration of radiopharmaceuticals.

The first IN alerts medical-use licensees to four strontium (Sr)-82/rubidium (Rb)-82 generator elution events that resulted in patients receiving concentrations of Sr-82 and Sr-85 in excess of regulatory requirements. The IN describes four separate events in which approximately 90 patients were administered Rb-82 chloride for cardiac imaging that contained Sr-82 and Sr-85 concentrations in excess of the regulatory limits identified in 10 CFR § 35.204. In evaluating these events, the NRC found that: