NAS Releases LLW Workshop Proceedings

On June 6, 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released the final publication, Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management and Disposition: Proceedings of a Workshop.  The publication documents the proceedings from a workshop that was organized by the NAS Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, Division on Earth and Life Studies, at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or Department).  The workshop was held in Washington, DC on October 24-25, 2016.

During the workshop, presenters and attendees provided perspectives from academia, industry, federal agencies (including those outside of DOE), state governments, international organizations, public interest groups, and national laboratories.  The proceedings provide a factual description of the workshop presentations and discussions and are limited to the views and opinions of those participating in the event.  The proceedings do not contain consensus findings or recommendations.

Overview  DOE asked NAS to organize this workshop to discuss approaches for the management and disposition of low-level radioactive waste.  The workshop considered similarities between successful case studies, in which unique disposition pathways have been developed to address low-level radioactive wastes, and explored ways to extend these similar characteristics to problematic wastes—i.e., low-level radioactive wastes currently without a clear disposition pathway.  Specifically, the workshop explored the key physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics of low-level radioactive waste that govern its safe and secure management (i.e., packaging, transport, storage) and disposition, in aggregate and for individual waste-streams; and, how key characteristics of low-level waste are incorporated into standards, orders, and regulations that govern the management and disposition of low-level radioactive waste in the United States and in other major waste-producing countries.

Workshop Structure  The workshop began by defining the “universe” of low-level radioactive waste within the United States and elsewhere—first by introducing the types of waste that exist and then by exploring the standards, orders, regulations, and laws that define and control their disposal.  Case studies were then presented to highlight the successful disposal of a variety of wastes that previously lacked a clear disposition pathway—these case studies are referred to as “success stories.”  The studies were selected from within and outside of the United States.  The participants explored common themes that led to success within the case studies such as: the use of existing regulations and standards (i.e., waste classification) to provide an anchor for disposal decisions; the identification of lessons learned from similar or analogous problems such as Canada’s or France’s approach to managing and disposing of very low-level waste (VLLW); and, the importance of site characteristics for disposal decisions.  These themes were organized into an approach to guide future discussions and disposition decisions for challenging low-level radioactive waste streams—referred to in the proceedings as a “common themes approach.”

Waste Streams  The common themes approach was applied to a set of five pre-selected challenging low-level radioactive waste streams that spanned a variety of waste characteristics including Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) and commercial transuranic waste (TRU) waste in excess of 100 nCi/g; sealed sources; VLLW and very low-activity waste; incident waste; and, depleted uranium.  One leader from each breakout group introduced a specific challenging low-level radioactive waste stream to the full workshop and later summarized the breakout group’s results of applying the common themes approach to the issues associated with the disposal of this waste stream.  Several participants identified short-term actions or next steps that could be taken to show progress in addressing each challenging waste stream in the final session of the workshop.

Challenges  Each of the waste streams discussed at the workshop presents a unique set of challenges for disposal.  For example, GTCC waste and commercial TRU waste in excess of 100 nCi/g lack a clear disposition pathway, while VLLW and very low-activity waste have a disposition pathway in which the level of protection may be considered incommensurate with the hazard, or a potentially non-optimal disposition pathway.  According to NAS, the application of the common themes approach to these diverse waste streams was intended to explore how adaptable this approach would be as a tool in discussing or presenting a variety of disposal options.

Background  The Department’s Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) is responsible for the cleanup of the sites used by the federal government for nuclear weapons development and nuclear energy research.  DOE-EM cleanup involves retrieval, treatment, storage, transportation, and disposition of hundreds of different radioactive and hazardous solid and liquid wastes.  Low-level radioactive waste—which is defined by exclusion as waste that does not meet the statutory definitions for spent nuclear fuel, high-level radioactive waste, or transuranic waste—is physically and chemically diverse, ranging from lightly contaminated soils and building materials to highly irradiated nuclear reactor components.  It is the most volumetrically significant waste stream (millions of cubic meters) being generated by the cleanup program.

The NAS proceedings are available to interested stakeholders for free download at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24715/.  For additional information, please contact Jennifer Heimberg, Senior Program Officer, Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board (NRSB), Board on Life Sciences (BLS), Board on Environmental Change and Society (BECS), NAS at (202) 334-3293 or at jheimberg@nas.edu.

Final EIS Issued for Proposed Northwest Medical Isotopes Facility

On May 16, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published its final environmental impact statement on a medical radioisotope production facility proposed for Columbia, Missouri.  The study recommends that, barring the identification of any safety issues during the agency’s ongoing safety review, a construction permit be issued to Northwest Medical Isotopes, LLC.

Northwest submitted the application in February 2015 proposing to construct a facility to produce molybdenum-99 from low-enriched uranium.  Molybdenum-99 decays to technetium-99m, the most commonly used radioisotope in medicine.  Technetium-99m is used in 20 to 25 million diagnostic procedures around the world each year, such as bone and organ scans to detect cancer and cardiovascular imaging.  There are currently no molybdenum-99 production facilities in the United States, though the NRC has issued a construction permit to SHINE Medical Technologies to build one in Janesville, Wisconsin.

The environmental impact statement (NUREG-2209) documents the NRC staff’s environmental review of Northwest’s construction permit application.  The review examined the environmental impacts of constructing, operating and decommissioning the proposed facility, as well as the transportation of uranium targets to research reactors and their irradiation in those reactors.  It concludes that the environmental impacts would be small, with cumulative impacts on air quality and noise being small to moderate, and cumulative impacts on ecological resources being moderate.  None of the projected impacts would be significant enough to deny the construction permit.

The NRC published a draft environmental impact statement for public comment in November 2015.  Comments received were addressed in the final version.

For additional information, please contact Maureen Conley at (301) 415-8200.

Washington Releases Annual Environmental Monitoring Report

In the spring of 2017, the Office of Radiation Protection, Environmental Public Health Division, Washington State Department of Health released US Ecology Washington’s Annual Environmental Monitoring Report for Calendar Year 2015.

Each year, US Ecology Washington submits an annual report, which is required by state law and the Washington State Department of Health’s license conditions as per Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 246-250-600.  WAC 246-250-340 also requires environmental monitoring.

US Ecology Washington receives and disposes low-level radioactive waste at the Hanford Site near Richland, Washington.

The report is now available on the agency’s website at www.doh.wa.gov.  For additional information, please contact Kate Lynch at (360) 236-3259 or at kate.lynch@doh.wa.gov.

NAS Releases LLW Workshop Proceedings

On April 13, 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released the publication, Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management and Disposition: Proceedings of a Workshop.  The NAS Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, Division on Earth and Life Studies, hosted the workshop on October 24-25, 2016.  The workshop was held at the NAS’ Keck Center, which is located at 500 Fifth Street NW in Washington, DC.

Background

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) is responsible for the cleanup of the sites used by the federal government for nuclear weapons development and nuclear energy research.  DOE-EM cleanup involves retrieval, treatment, storage, transportation, and disposition of hundreds of different radioactive and hazardous solid and liquid wastes.

Low-level radioactive waste—which is defined by exclusion as waste that does not meet the statutory definitions for spent nuclear fuel, high-level radioactive waste, or transuranic waste—is physically and chemically diverse, ranging from lightly contaminated soils and building materials to highly irradiated nuclear reactor components.  It is the most volumetrically significant waste stream (millions of cubic meters) being generated by the cleanup program.

Overview

The workshop considered similarities between successful case studies, in which unique disposition pathways have been developed to address low-level radioactive wastes, and explored ways to extend these similar characteristics to problematic wastes—i.e., low-level radioactive wastes currently without a clear disposition pathway.

Specifically, the workshop explored:

  •   the key physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics of low-level radioactive waste that govern its safe and secure management (i.e., packaging, transport, storage) and disposition, in aggregate and for individual waste-streams; and,
  •   how key characteristics of low-level waste are incorporated into standards, orders, and regulations that govern the management and disposition of low-level radioactive waste in the United States and in other major waste-producing countries.

For additional information, please contact Jennifer Heimberg, Senior Program Officer, Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board (NRSB), Board on Life Sciences (BLS), Board on Environmental Change and Society (BECS), NAS at (202) 334-3293 or at jheimberg@nas.edu.

The NSA proceedings are available to interested stakeholders for free download at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24715/.

LLW Forum Releases Report re Compact Import-Export Requirements

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum (LLW Forum) is pleased to announce the release of a report on Compact Import and Export Requirements.  The report, which was prepared by the Disused Sources Working Group (DSWG), includes links to each individual low-level radioactive waste compact’s websites, as well as links to any applicable policy statements and forms.  For those compacts that have export and/or import permit requirements, a brief explanation of the program is provided.  Any specific questions about a compact’s permit program should be addressed to the respective compact.  The contact information is available on the compact’s website.

The LLW Forum is a non-profit organization of representatives appointed by Governors and compact commissions that seeks to facilitate state and compact implementation of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980 and its 1985 amendments, as well as to promote the objectives of regional low-level radioactive waste disposal compacts.   In September 2011, the LLW Forum formed the DSWG to develop recommendations from the states and compacts for improving the management and disposition of disused sources.

For additional information about the LLW Forum and DSWG, please contact LLW Forum Executive Director and DSWG Project Director Todd D. Lovinger, Esq at (754) 779-7551 or at LLWForumInc@aol.com.

A copy of the report can be found on the LLW Forum website at http://llwforum.org/about/#compact.

EPA Publishes Final Revision to PAG Manual

As part of its mission to protect human health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes Protective Action Guides (PAGs) to help federal, state, local and tribal emergency response officials make radiation protection decisions during emergencies.  On December 8, 2016, the EPA—in coordination with a multi-agency working group within the Federal Radiological Preparedness Coordinating Committee (FRPCC)—published final updates to the 1992 Manual of Protective Action Guides and Protective Actions for Nuclear Incidents (1992 PAG Manual).

The updated guidance in the revised PAG Manual: Protective Action Guides and Planning Guidance for Radiological Incidents (PAG Manual) applies the PAGs to incidents other than nuclear power plant accidents, updates the radiation dosimetry and dose calculations based on current science and incorporates late phase guidance.  The final revisions incorporate input from public comments received in 2013 and include clarifications based on those comments.

EPA plans to finalize drinking water guidance after incorporating public comments on a proposal published in June 2016.  The intention is to add it as a section in the Intermediate Phase chapter of the PAG Manual and reissue the PAG Manual once complete.

A notice regarding release of the final revision of the PAG Manual was published at 81 Federal Register 88,679 (December 8, 2016).  The final revision of the PAG Manual is available at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR– 2008–0268.  The PAG Manual in electronic form, as well as related guidelines and additional information, can also be found on the PAGs Web page at http://www.epa.gov/ radiation/protective-action-guides-pags.

Overview

The PAG Manual provides federal, state and local emergency management officials with guidance for responding to radiological emergencies.  A PAG is the projected dose to an individual from a release of radioactive material at which a specific protective action to reduce or avoid that dose is recommended.  Emergency management officials use PAGs for making decisions regarding actions to protect the public from exposure to radiation during an emergency.  Such actions include, but are not limited to, evacuation, shelter-in-place, temporary relocation, and food restrictions.

Development of the PAGs was based on the following essential principles, which also apply to the selection of any protective action during an incident:

  •   prevent acute effects;
  •   balance protection with other important factors and ensure that actions result in more benefit than harm; and,
  •   reduce risk of chronic effects.

The PAG Manual is not a legally binding regulation or standard and does not supersede any environmental laws.  The guidance does not address or impact site cleanups occurring under other statutory authorities such as the EPA’s Superfund program, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) decommissioning program, or other federal or state cleanup programs.  As indicated by the use of non-mandatory language such as “may,” “should” and “can,” the PAG Manual only provides recommendations and does not confer any legal rights or impose any legally binding requirements upon any member of the public, states or any federal agency.  Rather, the PAG Manual recommends projected radiation doses at which specific actions may be warranted in order to reduce or avoid that dose.  The PAG Manual is designed to provide flexibility to be more or less restrictive as deemed appropriate by decision makers based on the unique characteristics of the incident and the local situation.

Implementation

The EPA encourages emergency management and radiation protection organizations that use the PAGs in their emergency plans to incorporate the updated guidance as soon as possible.  According to EPA, this may entail training, as well as updating plans and procedures.  The EPA, the FRMAC and interagency partners on the PAG Subcommittee will conduct outreach and technical training.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) expects certain organizations associated with nuclear power plant operations to use the PAG Manual in developing their emergency management plans.  In addition, the FEMA plans to begin using the new PAG Manual during their evaluation of offsite response organizations around nuclear power facilities twelve months after the publication of the Federal Register notice.

Background

The historical and legal basis of the EPA’s role in the PAG Manual begins with Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970, in which the Administrator of the EPA assumed functions of the Federal Radiation Council (FRC), including the charge to “ . . . advise the President with respect to radiation matters, directly or indirectly affecting health, including guidance for all federal agencies in the formulation of radiation standards and in the establishment and execution of programs of cooperation with states.”  Recognizing this role, FEMA directed the EPA in their Radiological Emergency Planning and Preparedness Regulations to “establish Protective Action Guides (PAGs) for all aspects of radiological emergency planning in coordination with appropriate federal agencies.”  FEMA also tasked the EPA with preparing “guidance for state and local governments on implementing PAGs, including recommendations on protective actions which can be taken to mitigate the potential radiation dose to the population.”  All of this information was to “be presented in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ‘Manual of Protective Action Guides and Protective Actions for Nuclear Incidents.’”

Additionally, section 2021(h) charged the Administrator with performing “such other functions as the President may assign to him [or her] by Executive order.”  Executive Order 12656 states that the Administrator shall “[d]evelop, for national security emergencies, guidance on acceptable emergency levels of nuclear radiation . . .”  The EPA’s role in PAGs development was reaffirmed by the National Response Framework, Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex of June 2008.

For additional information and related guidelines, see the PAGs Web page at http://www.epa.gov/radiation/ protective-action-guides-pags.

For additional information, please contact Sara DeCair of the Radiation Protection Division in the Center for Radiological Emergency Management at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at (202) 343–9108 or at decair.sara@epa.gov.

Seventh U.S. National Report Issued for Convention on Nuclear Safety

On October 27, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that the agency has published its Seventh National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety.  The report describes the U.S. government’s actions under the convention to achieve and maintain a high level of safety for its nuclear power plants.

The Convention on Nuclear Safety entered into force in 1996 and was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1999.  It establishes legally binding obligations for signatory states regarding national regulation and safety at commercial nuclear power facilities.

The Seventh National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety addresses issues identified through the peer review conducted during the sixth review meeting in 2014, as well as challenges and issues that have arisen since that time.  The sixth review meeting identified the following six U.S. challenges:

  • Fukushima-related activities;
  • transition to risk-informed fire protection regulations;
  • ensuring continuity during the oversight transition from plant construction to operation;
  • nuclear industry strategy;
  • report on status of periodic safety reviews pilot program; and,
  • status of NRC’s work on subsequent license renewal for plant operation beyond 60 years.

Countries that are parties to the convention meet every three years to discuss their reports.  The NRC has submitted the Seventh National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety for peer review by other countries.

NRC officials will discuss the report and respond to peer review questions at the seventh review meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, in March 2017.

The Seventh National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety demonstrates how the United States implements a high level of nuclear safety by enhancing national measures and international cooperation, and by meeting the obligations of all the articles established by the convention.

Some of the additional challenges discussed in the new report include:

  • digital instrumentation and control systems;
  • open-phase conditions in electric power systems;
  • spent fuel pool neutron-absorbing materials; and,
  • plant transition from operation to decommissioning status.

The report includes a section developed by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) describing the U.S. industry’s work to ensure safety.  INPO officials will also be part of the U.S. delegation to the convention review meeting.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

NRC to Consider Reevaluation of Category 3 Source Accountability

On October 18, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) regarding a proposed agency staff re-evaluation of Category 3 source accountability.

The SRM was issued in response to a July 29, 2016 memo from NRC Commissioner Baran proposing that NRC staff revisit the question of whether and how to track Category 3 sources.  Commissioner Baran’s memo was written in response to GAO-16-330 titled, “Nuclear Security:  NRC Has Enhanced the Controls of Dangerous Radioactive Materials, but Vulnerabilities Remain.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which was issued on July 15, 2016, concludes that NRC and Agreement States have taken several steps to help ensure that radioactive materials licenses are granted only to legitimate organizations and that licensees can only obtain such materials in quantities allowed by their licenses.  However, GAO also determined that NRC and Agreement States have not taken some measures for better controlling Category 3 quantities of radioactive material—such as tracking and agency license verification—that leave vulnerabilities.

The SRM directs NRC staff to submit a notation vote paper to the Commission that includes the following:

  • an evaluation of the pros and cons of different methods of requiring transferors of Category 3 sources to verify the validity of a transferee’s license prior to transfer;
  • an evaluation of the pros and cons of including Category 3 sources in the National Source Tracking System (NSTS);
  • an assessment, based on these evaluations, of these and any additional options that the staff identifies for addressing the source accountability recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO);
  • a vulnerability assessment which identifies changes in the threat environment between 2009 and today that argue in favor of or against expansion of the NSTS to include Category 3 sources;
  • a regulatory impact analysis of the accrued benefit and costs of the change, to include impacts to the NRC, Agreement States, non-Agreement States, and regulated entities;
  • a discussion of potential regulatory actions that would not require changes to NRC regulations that arose from or were considered by the staff working groups—including changes to guidance, training, and other program improvements such as more closely monitoring the implementation of the staff recommendations using the Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program (IMPEP) process; and,
  • any other factors arising from the staff’s currently ongoing assessment that the staff concludes would bear on the Commission’s deliberation on the proposed change.

The SRM states that the NRC staff’s evaluations for the notation vote paper “should begin after completion of the ongoing broader evaluation of the overall source protection and accountability strategy for sources due to the Congress at the end of this year.”

It further states that the results of the assessment of the security requirements in 10 CFR Part 37 should be used to inform the NRC staff’s evaluation and that, in conducting these evaluations, the staff “should assess the risks posed by the aggregation of Category 3 sources into Category 2 quantities and consider the current views of our Agreement States partners.”

The staff’s evaluation and notation vote paper are due to the Commission within 10 months of the issuance of the SRM.

For additional information and direct links to NRC’s October 2016 SRM, Commissioner Baran’s July 2016 memorandum and GAO-16-330, please visit the Resources Page of the Disused Sources Working Group (DSWG) web site at www.disusedsources.org.

NRC Posts Additional CA BTP Implementation Questions & Answers

On August 29, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that additional questions and answers (Nos. 22, 23, and 24) regarding implementation of the revised Branch Technical Position on Concentration Averaging and Encapsulation (CA BTP) have been posted to the NRC public website at http://www.nrc.gov/waste/llw-disposal/llw-pa/llw-btp.html.

The regulatory requirements for licensing a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility describe a system for classifying low-level radioactive waste for near-surface disposal.  Classification of low-level radioactive waste is based on the concentrations of certain radionuclides, and 10 CFR § 61.55(a)(8) specifically allows for averaging of concentrations in determining the waste class.  The CA BTP expands on those regulatory requirements by describing acceptable averaging methods that can be used in classifying waste.

For additional information, please contact Don Lowman, Project Manager for NMSS/DSFM/SFLB, at (301) 415-5452 or at Donald.Lowman@nrc.gov.

NRC Makes Yucca Mountain Hearing Documents Publicly Available

By press release dated August 19, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that the agency has made nearly 3.7 million documents from the adjudicatory hearing on the proposed nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain publicly available in the agency’s online documents database.

The documents were formerly part of the Licensing Support Network (LSN) created to allow various parties and the public access to documents needed for the hearing on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) request for a construction authorization for the repository.  The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Boards had admitted nearly 300 contentions from various parties challenging aspects of DOE’s application.  The LSN was shut down when the hearing was suspended in September 2011 after Congress reduced funding.

In August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC to resume its review of the application using the remaining previously appropriated funds.  In response, NRC staff completed the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) in January 2015 and a supplement to DOE’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in May 2016.

The LSN documents were placed in the NRC’s online documents database, known as ADAMS, to comply with federal records requirements and assist the staff in completing the safety review.  At that time, only LSN documents submitted by the staff were publicly available.  However, the Commission directed that all LSN documents be made publicly available in ADAMS once the staff completed its license review activities.

The new LSN Library in ADAMS includes enhanced search capabilities as well as an online user’s guide.  The NRC Public Document Room reference staff is also available to provide LSN Library assistance and can be reached at (301) 415-4737 or at (800) 397-4209 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

New York Issues 30th Annual Low-Level Waste Status Report

In July 2016, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) released the thirtieth annual New York State Low-Level Radioactive Waste Status Report.

The 2015 Status Report provides data on the volume and activity of low-level radioactive waste shipped to out-of-state disposal sites.  It also includes data on low-level radioactive waste stored at the end of the year pending disposal.

The New York State Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act (Chapter 673, Laws of 1986) requires facilities in the State of New York that produce low-level radioactive waste to file annual reports with NYSERDA detailing the types and quantities of waste generated.  The Act further requires NYSERDA to prepare an annual status report summarizing this information and to submit the report to the Governor and the New York state legislature.

The report, which covers calendar year 2015, is available on NYSERDA’s website at www.nyserda.ny.gov/llw-reporting.

 

For additional information, please contact Alyse Peterson, NYSERDA’s Senior Project Manager for Radioactive Waste Policy and Nuclear Coordination, at (518) 862-1090 ext. 3274 or at alp@nyserda.ny.gov.

Pennsylvania Releases Revised TENORM Study

Earlier this summer, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a revised version of its January 2015 study regarding Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM), which analyzed the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania DEP issued the revised version to correct errors in the data tables, inconsistent use of significant figures, and some typos.  In addition, DEP published a new Appendix M that contains the non-radiological data generated and collected that was not with the scope of the study.

Although the DEP report outlined recommendations for further study, it concluded that there is little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure due to oil and gas development.

The revised study report, as well as a second version of the revised report that shows the edits, is available at http://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Energy/OilandGasPrograms/OilandGasMgmt/Oil-and-Gas-Related-Topics/Pages/Radiation-Protection.aspx.

GAO Releases Report re Security of Sealed Sources

On July 15, 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released GAO-16-330 titled, “Nuclear Security:  NRC Has Enhanced the Controls of Dangerous Radioactive Materials, but Vulnerabilities Remain.”  The report examines

  •   the steps that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the 37 states it permits to grant licenses for radioactive materials—called Agreement States—have taken to ensure that radioactive materials licenses are granted only to legitimate organizations and licensees can obtain materials only in quantities allowed by their licenses; and,
  •   the results of covert vulnerability testing designed to test the effectiveness of these controls.

In the report, GAO concludes that NRC and Agreement States have taken several steps to help ensure that radioactive materials licenses are granted only to legitimate organizations and that licensees can only obtain such materials in quantities allowed by their licenses.

However, GAO also determined that NRC and Agreement States have not taken some measures for better controlling Category 3 quantities of radioactive material—such as tracking and agency license verification—that leave vulnerabilities.

GAO-16-330 was prepared in response to a request from the Committee on Homeland Security of the U.S. House of Representatives.

GAO-16-330 can be obtained online at www.gao.gov/assets/680/678170.pdf.  For additional information, please contact David Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or at trimbled@gao.gov.

Annual Report to Congress Published re Nuclear Security Inspections

On June 30, 2016, an unclassified version of the annual report to Congress from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was made available to the public.  The report, which is required under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, details the previous year’s security inspection program.

The report covers the NRC’s security inspection program, including force-on-force exercises, for commercial nuclear power reactors and Category I fuel cycle facilities for calendar year 2015.

In 2015, the NRC conducted 242 security inspections at commercial nuclear power plants and Category I fuel cycle facilities.  Those included 22 force-on-force inspections, involving simulated attacks on the facilities to test the effectiveness of a licensee’s security.  The NRC’s security program and publicly available results of the inspections are discussed in the report.

A copy of the report can be found at www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1608/ML16081A367.pdf.  For additional information, please contact Maureen Conley of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

World Institute of Nuclear Security Issues Special Report re Alternative Technologies to Replace Radioactive Sources

In May 2016, the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) issued a special report titled, “Considerations for the Adoption of Alternative Technologies to Replace Radioactive Sources.”

The WINS report describes the advantages and disadvantages of several alternative technologies used in medicine, industry, research and academia to help interested stakeholders consider whether it would be appropriate to replace some or all of the radioactive source technologies that are currently being used with an alternative—particularly if the replacement is more effective, less burdensome, and less costly.  In addition, the report presents a process that will help stakeholders decide whether to adopt an alternate technology, suggests several issues to consider when assessing the viability of such changes, discusses some of the challenges others have faced when making this decision, and provides references to support stakeholder considerations.  Finally, Appendix A of the report provides a set of questions that will help stakeholders determine whether or not the use of alternative technologies would be viable in their individual circumstances.

In preparing the special report, the WINS considered the experience of medical, industrial and academic practitioners and regulators.  The WINS also considered guidance material published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), selected national regulators and two WINS workshops focused on the international community’s experience with alternative technologies.

For additional information and a link to a copy of the WINS report, please go to the resources page of the DSWG web site at http://www.disusedsources.org/resources/.

For additional information on the DSWG, please contact DSWG Project Director Todd D. Lovinger, Esq. at LLWForumInc@aol.com or at (754) 779-7551.  

Final Supplement Issued for
 Yucca Mountain EIS

In early May 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published the staff’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) supplement on a proposed permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.  The supplement analyzes potential impacts on groundwater and surface groundwater discharges and determines all impacts would be “small.”

Overview

The May 2016 NRC document that supplements Environmental Impact Statements that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) prepared on the proposed repository.  DOE issued the final EIS in 2002, then supplemented it in June 2008 when it submitted a construction authorization application to the NRC.

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the NRC is to adopt DOE’s EIS to the extent practicable.  In September 2008, NRC staff recommended adoption of DOE’s Environmental Impact Statements, but noted the need to supplement the study of groundwater effects in the Yucca Mountain aquifer beyond DOE’s analyzed location at the site boundary.  DOE ultimately deferred to the NRC to prepare the supplement.

Background

In August 2015, NRC published a draft of the supplement for public comment.  (See LLW Notes, July/August 2016, pp. 28-29.)  During the 91-day comment period, NRC staff conducted public meetings to present the report and receive comments in Rockville, Maryland and in Las Vegas and Amargosa Valley, Nevada.

The NRC received more than 1,200 comments on the draft supplement, including comment letters and oral comments.  The NRC staff’s responses to these comments, and descriptions of changes made to the final report in response to comments, can be found in Appendix B of the supplement.

The supplement to the Yucca Mountain EIS is available on the NRC’s website at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr2184/.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

NRC Releases Results of Byproduct Material Financial Scoping Study

On April 27, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released SECY-16-0046, Results of the Byproduct Material Financial Scoping Study.  The purpose of SECY-16-0046 is to provide the Commission with the results of the staff’s byproduct material financial scoping study and recommendations for next steps.

In SECY-16-0046, NRC staff recommends that the financial assurance requirements in 10 CFR 30.35 should be expanded to include all byproduct material Category 1 and 2 radioactive sealed sources that are tracked in the National Source Tracking System (NSTS).  In making this recommendation, staff notes as follows:

The thresholds in 10 CFR 30.35 that require financial assurance for sealed radioactive material are seven orders of magnitude higher than for unsealed material.  As a result, many licensees that possess byproduct material Radioactive Sealed Sources (RSS), including many Category 1 and 2 RSSs, are not required to provide financial assurance for decommissioning.  If financial assurance is required, it is intended to support site decommissioning, not necessarily the disposition of an individual RSS that has become disused or unwanted.  Adequacy of financial planning for disposition of disused RSSs has been raised in a number of external reports issued over the past decade.

SECY-16-0046 further states that, per recent Commission direction, the staff plans to develop a rulemaking plan SECY paper to propose initiating rulemaking, which will also include a discussion of other regulatory options.  The staff plans to provide the SECY paper to the Commission in the fourth quarter of FY 2016.

NRC also released an accompanying document titled, Financial Planning for Radioactive Byproduct Material—Scoping Report, that provides background information; reviews key reports and recommendations; analyzes technical considerations; discusses decommissioning financial assurance requirements and funding plans; considers financial assurance methods and funding mechanisms, disposition paths other than disposal, and establishing funding requirements for disposition; reviews life-cycle issues, orphan sources, timeliness in declaring and dispositioning disused sources, and tracking; considers applicability to General Licenses, compatibility with Agreement State requirements, and security considerations; provides an overview of disposal access, DOE/NNSA source recovery and disposal programs, and transportation considerations; and, so forth.

SECY-16-0046 may be found on the NRC’s web site at www.nrc.gov under Accession Number ML16068A202.  Enclosure 1 may be found on the web site under Accession Number ML16068A205.

NRC Hosts Public Meeting re Post-Fukushima Screening of “Other External Hazards” at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

On April 5, 2016, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff met with the public to discuss and solicit comments regarding the results of the staff’s preliminary screening of natural events other than earthquakes and flooding (ADAMS Accession No. ML16039A054).  This screening is part of the agency’s efforts to learn from the issues raised by the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

During the meeting, NRC staff described the process used to screen natural events other than seismic and flooding events.  The results of that screening will identify which hazards (e.g., extreme drought, heavy snow loads, tornadoes and hurricanes) should be evaluated further to determine if additional regulatory action is needed.

Comments on the assessment can be e-mailed to JLD_Public.Resource@nrc.gov by April 12, 2016.  NRC staff will consider, to the extent possible, comments received after that date.

The final results of the staff’s screening will be provided to the NRC Commission by the end of May 2016.  The staff’s final assessment (including a determination of whether additional regulatory action is needed) will be provided by the end of the year.

NRC’s White Paper titled, “NRC Staff Assessment of Fukushima Tier 2 Recommendations Related to Evaluation of Natural Hazards Other Than Seismic and Flooding,” can be found at http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ml1603/ML16039A054.pdf.

To view the agenda for the meeting, go to http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ml1608/ML16084A538.pdf.

For additional information, please contact Scott Burnell of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

NRC Issues Annual Assessments for Nation’s Nuclear Plants

On March 4, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that the agency has issued letters to the nation’s 99 commercial operating nuclear plants about their performance in 2015.  All but three plants were in the two highest performance categories.

“These assessment letters are the result of a holistic review of operating performance at each domestic power reactor facility,” said Bill Dean, Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.  “In addition to ensuring that the nation’s nuclear power plants are safe by inspecting them, the NRC continuously assesses performance.  The purpose of these assessment letters is to ensure that all of our stakeholders clearly understand the basis for our assessments of plant performance and the actions we are taking to address any identified performance deficiencies.”

Later this year, the NRC will host a public meeting or other event in the vicinity of each plant to discuss the details of the annual assessment results.  A separate announcement will be issued for each meeting.

Overview

Of the 96 highest-performing reactors, 85 fully met all safety and security performance objectives.  The NRC used the normal “baseline” inspection program to inspect these reactors.

Eleven reactors need to resolve one or two items of low safety significance.  For this performance level, regulatory oversight includes additional inspections and follow-up of corrective actions.  Plants in this level include:

  •   Clinton (Illinois);
  •   Davis Besse (Ohio);
  •   Dresden 2 (Illinois);
  •   Duane Arnold (Iowa);
  •   Indian Point 3 (New York);
  •   Millstone 3 (Connecticut);
  •   Prairie Island 2 (Minnesota);
  •   River Bend (Louisiana);
  •   Sequoyah 1 (Tennessee); and,
  •   Susquehanna 1 and 2 (Pennsylvania).

NRC reports that Duane Arnold, Millstone 3, and Susquehanna 1 and 2 have resolved their issues since the reporting period ended and have transitioned to the highest performing level.

There were no reactors in the third performance category with a degraded level of performance.

There were three reactors in the fourth performance category.  Arkansas Nuclear One 1 and 2 (Arkansas) require increased oversight because of two safety findings of substantial significance.  Pilgrim (Massachusetts) is in the fourth performance category because of long-standing issues of low- to-moderate safety significance.  NRC states that reactors in this category receive additional inspections and increased agency management attention to confirm performance issues are being addressed.

Background

The NRC routinely updates information on each plant’s current performance and posts the latest information as it becomes available to the action matrix summary. The annual assessment letters sent to each operating reactor are also available through the NRC’s webpage on the Reactor Oversight Process.

Annual construction oversight assessments for new reactors at the Vogtle and Summer sites are available on the NRC website.  The assessment letter for Watts Bar 2, which received its operating license in October 2015, is also available.

Every six months each plant receives either a mid-cycle or annual assessment letter along with an NRC inspection plan.

For additional information, please contact Eric Stahl of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

Web Page Created on Increased Oversight of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

In mid-February 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission established a web page on the agency’s website containing information about the agency’s increased oversight of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant. Among the items on the web page are background information, schedules, and NRC correspondence related to the increased oversight, inspection reports and other key documents. As the oversight process moves forward, newly released documents will be added to the page.

In mid-October 2015, Entergy Corporation announced plans to shut down Pilgrim by June 1, 2019. Entergy Corporation, which is one of the largest energy companies in the United States, cited economic factors in making the decision to close the plant.

In September 2015, the NRC announced that Pilgrim had moved to Column 4 of the Action Matrix used to determine the level and types of inspections to be performed at any given plant. Pilgrim—which is located in Plymouth, Massachusetts—made that transition after an inspection finding designated as “White,” or of low to moderate safety significance, was finalized for the facility.

The finding overlapped with two earlier findings that were also of low to moderate safety significance, resulting in an NRC determination that the plant should be in Column 4, also known as the Multiple/Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone Column, and therefore subject to additional oversight.

The web page can be found at http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactors/pilg/special-oversight.html. For additional information, please contact Diane Screnci at (610) 337-5330 or Neil Sheehan at (610) 337-5331.

New Reactor Licenses to be Issued for South Texas Project

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has cleared the way for the agency’s Office of New Reactors to issue two Combined Licenses (COL) for Nuclear Innovation North America’s (NINA) South Texas Project site in Texas. Based on the mandatory hearing on NINA’s application, the Commission found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings.

Following the Commissioners’ direction, the NRC staff will work to issue the COLs promptly. The licenses will authorize NINA to build and operate two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) at the site near Bay City, Texas. The South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company already operates two reactors at the site.

The staff will impose several conditions on the license, including:

  •  specific actions associated with the agency’s post-Fukushima requirements for Mitigation Strategies and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation;
  • requiring monitoring and analysis of the reactors’ steam dryers during initial plant startup, in line with current procedures for existing boiling-water reactors approved to operate at increased power levels; and,
  • setting a pre-startup schedule for post-Fukushima aspects of the new reactor’s emergency preparedness plans and procedures. 


NINA submitted its application for the licenses on September 20, 2007. The NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) independently reviewed aspects of the application that concern safety, as well as the staff’s Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER). The ACRS, a group of experienced technical experts, advises the Commission—independently from the NRC staff—on safety issues related to the licensing and operation of nuclear power plants, as well as on issues of health physics and radiation protection.

  • The ACRS provided the results of its review to the Commission on February 19, 2015. The NRC completed its environmental review and issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed South Texas Project reactors in February 2011. The NRC completed and issued the FSER on September 29, 2015. The NRC certified the 1,300-megawatt ABWR design in 1997.

Additional information on the certification process is available on the NRC web site at nrc.gov. For additional information, please contact Scott Burnell of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.