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.”

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.

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.”

In a rare legal challenge related to fees the NRC charges nuclear licensees for its services, the US Court of Federal Claims recently held that the costs of certain NRC services provided in connection with Confirmatory Orders (COs) are not recoverable via hourly bills to individual licensees. The court held that COs are essentially enforcement orders, and thus cannot be viewed as conveying an “individual benefit” to licensees.

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.

On January 31, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a proposed rule to revise the professional hourly rate and flat licensing fees charged to licensees and applicants under 10 CFR Parts 170 and 171. Congress requires the NRC to recover 90% of its operating budget from fees, but certain new activities this year are excluded from that fee recovery requirement. For example, fees for advanced reactors will be carved out from the 90% fee recovery. Despite the carve-outs, NRC fees for each operating reactor will increase by approximately $330,000 (or 7.3%) from FY 2018.

President Donald Trump on January 14 signed into law the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), Pub. L. 115-86, after it was passed by Congress in late December 2018. NEIMA covers a wide variety of issues, but two main topics should be particularly welcomed by the nuclear industry: relief from US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fee collection and the clear direction to speed the rollout of an NRC licensing framework for advanced nuclear reactors.

The Office of the Federal Register (OFR) is impacted by the partial government shutdown, and is now operating under the special procedures set forth in its December 10, 2018, notice (83 Fed. Reg. 63540) that anticipated a potential funding hiatus. In order to comply with the Antideficiency Act, the OFR will not publish routine notices, but rather it is requiring that agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) certify that any notice to be published in the Federal Register meets an applicable exemption for “emergencies involving the safety of human life or protection of property.” By the express language in 31 USC § 1342, as amended in 1990, this exemption “does not include ongoing, regular functions of government the suspension of which would not imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.” Therefore, the NRC staff has indicated that publication of a notice for a licensing action, such as a notice of an application for a license amendment, could be delayed due to the above limitations.

In late September, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) made public a White Paper that it had initially issued internally to the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) in March 2012. The White Paper, titled “NRC and Licensee Actions in Response to New Information from a Third Party,” discusses NRC expectations for how licensees should consider new information received from a third party that may affect a plant’s Final Safety Analysis Report (FSAR). It is our understanding that the White Paper is being released at this time due to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Nonetheless, licensees should be aware of this White Paper and its potential impact should the NRC decide to apply this “guidance.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently issued Revision 3 of Regulatory Guide (RG) 4.2, “Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Stations.”  Revision 3 provides a long-overdue update to RG 4.2, which was last revised in 1976.  Given the numerous changes to applicable environmental statutes, regulations, and executive orders since that time, the NRC issued two interim staff guidance (ISG) documents in 2014.  Revision 3 incorporates guidance from those ISGs insofar as it relates to information that an applicant must include in its Environmental Report (ER) for any requested permit, license, or other authorization to site, construct, and/or operate a new nuclear power plant.  Prior to issuing RG 4.2, Revision 3, the Staff published a draft version thereof in February 2017 and responded to comments received on the draft.