Our US labor/management relations team continues to track the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) increasingly business-friendly approach in 2019. The Board’s busy year to date includes its decision in Entergy Mississippi, addressing the supervisory status of certain electric utility transmission and distribution dispatchers and resulting ineligibility to vote in a union election. This important decision is discussed further in our recent edition of Labor & Employment NOW. Moreover, the Board’s recent proposed rulemaking on union election procedures is the latest sign that the Republican-majority Board is now in high gear. As outlined in this LawFlash, employers should stay tuned to the Board’s regulatory and decisional authority in the second half of 2019. Of particular interest for the nuclear industry is the Board’s upcoming second round of rulemaking on union election procedures, as well as the final version of the NLRB’s rules on its joint employer standard to determine when an entity has an employer relationship with the employees of another business, impacting relationships such as vendors and onsite contractors.

In a June 25, 2019, letter to the Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Senators John Barrasso and Mike Braun requested that the agency develop a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for the construction and operation of advanced reactors. The letter asserts that a GEIS “will be a critical step to facilitate the deployment of new nuclear technologies” and “will focus NRC’s licensing efforts on the most important safety issues, reduce NRC staff resources dedicated to environmental permitting, and align with Congressional and Executive Branch efforts to conduct environmental permitting reviews more efficiently.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a public meeting on August 8 to provide information and receive comments on the regulatory basis supporting the NRC’s rulemaking on physical security requirements for advanced reactors. The public meeting was the latest step in the NRC’s rulemaking process, which began on August 1, 2018, with the NRC Staff’s report to the Commission evaluating options for revising physical security regulations for advanced reactors. The Commission approved the NRC Staff’s proposed rulemaking plan on November 19, 2018. We previously reported on the NRC Staff’s report, the Commission’s Approval, and the publication of the regulatory basis for comment.

During the public meeting, NRC Staff summarized the regulatory basis and their recommendation for a limited-scope rulemaking. NRC Staff explained that the purpose of the rulemaking is to provide requirements and guidance for advanced reactor physical security and reduce the need for physical security exemptions—specifically from regulations requiring each site to have at least 10 armed responders for emergency security response (10 CFR § 73.55(k)(5)(ii)), and an on-site secondary alarm station to monitor potential issues (10 CFR § 73.55(i)(4)(iii)).

The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a final rule in the August 2 Federal Register that revises DOE’s Contractor Employee Protection Program. The program appears in 10 CFR Part 708 (Part 708) and extends employee protections to employees of DOE contractors and subcontractors modeled after the protections for federal employees that appear in the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 USC §§ 1201 et seq. DOE’s Office of Administrative Appeals (OHA) administers the Part 708 program. We previously reported on the proposed rule, and the final rule largely adopts the changes laid out in the proposed rule. Key changes include the following:

In SECY-19-0068 dated July 1 but recently made available, the NRC staff has asked the Commission to approve a proposed direct final rule that would eliminate one of the two financial tests used to qualify a company to issue a parent guarantee for decommissioning funding assurance. The NRC staff cites a 2010 Dodd-Frank Act mandate that agencies remove references to credit ratings in their regulations and substitute alternative standards of creditworthiness. However, rather than substituting alternative standards, the NRC staff proposes to simply eliminate one of its two current financial tests, and instead rely upon the single remaining test. Unfortunately, many companies that would qualify under the current financial test based on having an investment-grade credit rating do not qualify under the alternative test that would remain. As such, this change would heighten the credit requirements for using a parent guarantee and limit the availability of parent guarantees to provide financial assurance for decommissioning. Nonetheless, the NRC staff considers the proposal “non‑controversial” and seeks to issue the change to the regulations as a direct final rule.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a Federal Register notice on July 16 requesting comments on a regulatory basis supporting a “limited scope” rulemaking to develop physical security requirements for advanced reactors. For this rulemaking, “advanced reactors” means “light-water small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light water reactors (non-LWRs)” which includes, but “is not fully coextensive with,” the definition of an “Advanced Nuclear Reactor” in the recently enacted Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. The deadline to submit comments is August 15.

We previously reported on this rulemaking process, which started with the NRC Staff’s August 1, 2018, report to the Commission, evaluating options for revising physical security regulations for advanced reactors. We also reported on the Commission’s approval of the NRC’s Staff’s proposed rulemaking plan, which occurred on November 19, 2018. The NRC’s physical security requirements for large LWRs—in 10 CFR § 73.55>—is focused on preventing significant core damage and spent fuel sabotage. Current regulations require each site to have at least 10 armed responders for emergency security response (10 CFR § 73.55(k)(5)(ii)), and an on-site secondary alarm station to monitor potential issues (10 CFR § 73.55(i)(4)(iii)).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued three rules on June 19, granting additional powers to states to determine their projected energy resource mixes, including nuclear energy. In response to the rules, utilities should be prepared for possible changes to state policies defining what constitutes “clean” energy and supporting reliability. The rules are intended to go into effect 30 days from their issuance. However, the implementation timeline for the rules is not certain because several states and organizations have stated they intend to challenge the rules in the federal courts.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently published proposed changes to its Contractor Employee Protection Program in the Federal Register. DOE’s Contractor Employee Protection Program appears in 10 C.F.R. Part 708 (Part 708) and extends employee protections to employees of DOE contractors and subcontractors modeled after the protections for federal employees that appear in the Whistleblower Protection Act (5 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq.).

The NRC on May 3 took the overdue step of withdrawing portions of certain power reactor security requirements—issued via three agency orders in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, which were subsequently captured in agency regulations:

  • EA-02-026, “Order for Interim Safeguards and Security Compensatory Measures” (February 25, 2002)
  • EA-02-261, “Order for Compensatory Measures Related to Access Authorization” (January 7, 2003)
  • EA-03-039, “Order for Compensatory Measures Related to Training Enhancements on Tactical and Firearms Proficiency and Physical Fitness Applicable to Armed Nuclear power Plant Security Force Personnel” (April 29, 2003).

In January, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) staff hosted a public meeting with industry representatives to discuss the staff’s progress in reviewing recommendations for the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) framework enhancement initiative. The objectives of the ROP enhancement initiative are to evaluate whether the baseline inspection program remains relevant for the current environment, eliminate redundant or unnecessary inspection areas, maximize efficient and effective use of resources, and incorporate flexibility in program implementation, where appropriate.

In 2018, the NRC solicited ideas for enhancing the ROP, which resulted in an industry proposal based on four points: US fleet maturity, improved safety margins, improved risk assessments, and greater use of risk-informed decisionmaking. Part of this proposal includes redefining labels for findings and combining Columns 1 and 2 of the Action Matrix. If the industry proposal prevails, it would mark a paradigm shift, considering Columns 1 and 2 have been in existence since the pilot program for ROP enhancement was introduced in 1999. As was stated at the public meeting, combining Columns 1 and 2 would be a long-term change. A proposal to remove Section 71152 of the Inspection Procedure, for problem identification and resolution, was also raised at the meeting but was generally dismissed.

This blog post is the first in a series that will track further progress on the ROP enhancement initiative.