KEY TRENDS IN LAW AND POLICY REGARDING
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report, analyzing regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2021. The report’s top-line numbers show that allegations increased approximately 40% from 2020. The broad-based increase spanned reactor and materials licensees, as well as their vendors.
In response to reports from the NRC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and a tasking order from the NRC's executive director of operations (EDO) directing a review of NRC oversight of “counterfeit, fraudulent, and suspect items” (CFSI) in all regulated activities, the directors of the NRC's Offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) and Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS) jointly issued a memorandum on March 4 concluding that “there is no evidence that CFSIs have adversely challenged the safety of reactor facilities” or any licensed activities. However, the NRC Staff's activities evaluating whether program improvements are necessary to address the risks posed by CFSI remain ongoing, with a final report expected in mid-April.
The NRC’s Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Office of Investigations Annual Report FY 2021 summarizing its activities during the past fiscal year. Overall, OI saw a drop in caseload, likely due—at least in part—to the COVID-19 pandemic and more workers working from home. Even so, the trend of increasing investigations of materials licensees continued, and this is likely to be a continuing area of focus for the NRC.
The NRC’s Commissioners approved an NRC Staff request on August 5 to withdraw two SECY memoranda related to improvements of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP). These SECY papers were initially issued in 2018 (SECY-18-113) and 2019 (SECY-19-067), and sought Commission approval for what the NRC Staff recommended would be potential improvements to the ROP as a whole. In withdrawing these two SECY papers, the Commission’s brief Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) provided little explanation as to why the Staff requested withdrawal of the two SECY papers.

The NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report (OIG-21-A-13) discussing the results of its audit of the NRC’s pandemic oversight of nuclear power plants. The purpose of the audit was to “assess the NRC’s policies and procedures for conducting reactor inspections during the COVID-19 public health emergency and to identify best practices that could be applied during future pandemics or other public health emergencies.” In short, the OIG found that:

The NRC Office of Enforcement (OE) recently published its Enforcement Program Annual Report for calendar year 2020. The report shows that the number of escalated enforcement actions increased 7% over 2019, but remained below the five-year average from 2016 to 2020. That said, 2018 was the nadir of this five-year period with 45 escalated enforcement actions. So while the number of escalated enforcement actions have not returned to levels seen in 2016 and 2017 (each with more than 80), instances of escalated enforcement remain above longer-term historic trends, notwithstanding maturation of the industry. Whether this trend continues is to be seen. In April 2021, the NRC named Mark Lombard as the new director of the Office of Enforcement.
The NRC recently issued its Allegation Program Annual Trends Report. The report analyzes regional, national, and site-specific allegation trends for calendar year 2020. The report’s top-line numbers show that the number of allegations fell approximately 10% from 2019. This reduction continues the decline in allegations seen since 2016; and the number of allegations has fallen by more than 50% over the past five years. But while the overall number of allegations continued to decline in 2020, the rate of decline slowed.
The NRC’s Office of Investigations (OI) recently published its Annual Report FY 2020, summarizing its activities during the last fiscal year. The annual report shows that OI opened 13% more cases in 2020 than in 2019, reversing the downward trend seen over the last several years. The increase in the number of opened investigations is notable given the quarantine and travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that many licensees reduced their onsite staffing to minimize the risk of infection.
The NRC held a public meeting on November 17 to review regulatory relief currently available to medical and other materials licensees, and to identify potential additional relief that the Staff is currently considering.
A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Kentucky issued an indictment against an individual for transportation of radioactive material generated from fracking activities without compliance with US Department of Transportation hazardous materials regulations.