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.
Nuclear energy promises an available and adaptable source of zero-carbon energy. As such, it is poised to play a significant role in the global drive to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. While some energy companies and governments have recently announced plans to phase out their use of nuclear power, others are looking at nuclear power as a tool to mitigate the rising cost of oil and gas and to reinforce their energy security.
The NRC staff recently provided the Commission with their annual Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) Self-Assessment for Calendar Year 2021 (SECY-22-0029). These annual self-assessments have been part of the ROP since the ROP was implemented in 2000 and are used by the Commission, the NRC staff, and stakeholders to monitor the performance of the ROP and identify areas for improvement.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced on April 19 that it is now accepting sealed bids from reactor owners and operators to receive initial credits under the Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNCP). Concurrent with this announcement, DOE issued guidance to assist applicants in preparing the sealed bids.
The NRC staff recently released its long-awaited policy paper on Environmental Justice (EJ) reform at the agency (SECY-22-0025, “Systematic Review of How Agency Programs, Policies, and Activities Address Environmental Justice”). The staff’s retrospective review found that current NRC EJ efforts are fully consistent with applicable law. Nevertheless, they provided a series of recommendations and commitments for Commission consideration.
The Commission recently approved the NRC Staff’s recommendation to pursue a 24-month schedule for updating the agency’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (LR GEIS). The Commission’s decision signifies an ambitious push forward to make the LR GEIS applicable to subsequent license renewal (SLR) applications.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued SRM-SECY-21-0107, in which it approved the NRC Staff’s recommendation to delegate authority to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) Panel—the independent trial-level adjudicatory body of the NRC—to conduct “mandatory” hearings for certain types of construction permit applications. However, the Commission also noted its intent to conduct such hearings itself in certain first-of-a-kind proceedings.
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.
A group of four US senators introduced a bill on March 16 to ban imports of uranium products from the Russian Federation. If enacted, such a ban could complicate the refueling of existing commercial reactors in the United States that rely on Russian uranium products. A ban also could extend the schedule in the United States for deploying some advanced reactors, because Russia is a key source of the high-assay, low enriched uranium (HALEU) they plan to use. In a related development, Russia is considering a ban on uranium exports to the United States in retaliation for the most recent energy sanctions on Russia.
The NRC recently revised its Enforcement Manual (Manual) to consolidate and expand its guidance on the process for resolving licensee challenges to certain enforcement actions. The biggest change to the Manual is the creation of a new Section 2.8 on “Disputed Violations” that merges into one section the disputed violation resolution process for all enforcement actions other than those associated with NRC orders.