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.

Read our recent LawFlash detailing the key takeaways for energy companies from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law on March 27. Although the act does not expressly provide relief for energy companies, many of its provisions impact energy sector companies.

As we reported in 2019, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, which occurred on January 31, 2020, included the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Exports of nuclear materials, goods, and services from the United States to each of the 27 member countries of Euratom are governed under the United States–Euratom Agreement and the Euratom Cooperation Act of 1958.

The US House of Representatives Energy Subcommittee within the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology unanimously approved H.R. 6097 (Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act) on March 12. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Conor Lamb (D-PA) jointly introduced the bill.

The bill, which Morgan Lewis previously reported on in February, proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States.

Representative Lamb commented that the bill would help save “today’s jobs and create more for tomorrow,” and Representative Newhouse emphasized that nuclear power will play a “critical role” as “the United States continues to lead in reducing carbon emissions.”

The bill has gained substantial support from various nuclear industry advocacy groups, including the US Nuclear Industry Council and the Nuclear Energy Institute.

We will continue to monitor the bill’s progression through the legislative process.

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 US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is requesting feedback on the proposed Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act by Wednesday, February 19. The Committee hopes to introduce the bill by the end of the month.

The act proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States. Several programs are highlighted below.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program authorizes the secretary of energy to establish a program to support existing plants in the United States. The program would focus on research and development of technologies that will “modernize and improve” vital aspects of the reactors, including reliability, component aging, and safety.

On February 5, DOE released a Request for Information/Notice of Intent (RFI/NOI), which announced DOE’s intent to solicit applications for two Advanced Reactor Demonstration (ARD) awards. Each award will be in the amount of $80 million for the first year, with additional funding dependent on individual project requirements and congressional appropriations. The projects are expected to be operational within five to seven years of the award.

Between two and five applicants who are not selected for one of the two ARD awards may be considered for a separate Risk Reduction award, if the project represents diversity of advanced reactor designs. The awards will address technical risks in each applicant’s reactor design. The total amount of the awards will be $30 million for the first year.

Our energy lawyers have prepared a LawFlash addressing the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” published today in the Federal Register by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The proposed rule has four major elements: (1) to modernize, simplify, and accelerate the NEPA process; (2) clarify terms, application, and scope of NEPA review; (3) enhance coordination with states, tribes, and localities; and (4) reduce unnecessary burdens and delays.

To date, the commercial nuclear power industry has expressed strong support for the types of rule changes proposed by the CEQ in its NPRM, as they are intended to streamline and expedite the federal agency NEPA review process. Those in the industry that depend on federal agency action when advancing projects and securing permits should actively participate in the proposed rulemaking and help the CEQ build a sufficient agency record to defend against any later litigation challenges to new regulations.

Read the full LawFlash.