New Potential Regulations for Power Reactor Decommissioning

From May 8-10, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a public meeting to discuss the draft regulatory basis and preliminary draft regulatory analysis for a future regulation on decommissioning commercial nuclear power plants.  The meeting was held at the NRC’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.

Overview  On March 15, 2017, NRC published the draft regulatory basis for the rulemaking for public comment.  It describes several decommissioning issues to be addressed in the new regulation, as well as possible resolutions.  The rule would establish clear requirements for commercial power reactors transitioning to decommissioning.  The draft regulatory basis draws upon comments submitted in response to an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that was published in November 2015.  A notice regarding the draft regulatory basis was published in the Federal Register later in March 2017, initiating a 90-day public comment period.  The preliminary draft regulatory analysis, which describes the costs and benefits of all approaches to resolving the issues, was published prior to the public meeting.

Public Meeting  During the public meeting, NRC staff members presented both the draft regulatory basis and the preliminary draft regulatory analysis with extended discussions of various subjects to be addressed in the rulemaking.  Members of the public were encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback, although the staff did not take formal public comment on either document at the meeting.  The following is a brief overview of the agenda topics for each day of the meeting: the current regulatory approach to decommissioning, the back-fit analysis of the proposed rulemaking, drug and alcohol testing and fatigue management; emergency preparedness, aging management, cyber security and physical security; decommissioning trust funds, onsite and offsite insurance indemnity agreements, and certified fuel handler training and minimum staffing; and, the preliminary draft regulatory analysis.

Staff Analysis  In the draft regulatory basis, the NRC staff concludes there is sufficient justification to proceed with rulemaking in the following areas: emergency preparedness; physical security; decommissioning trust funds; offsite and onsite financial protection requirements and indemnity agreements; and, application of the back-fit rule.  The staff suggests guidance, rather than rulemaking, should be used to address the following items: the role of state and local governments in the decommissioning process; the level of NRC review and approval of a licensee’s post-shutdown decommissioning activities report; and, whether to revise the 60-year limit for power reactor decommissioning.  The NRC staff is seeking additional public input before making recommendations on the following topics: cyber security; drug and alcohol testing; minimum staffing and training requirements for certified fuel handlers; aging management; and, fatigue management. That additional input, as well as comments received on the draft document, will be considered as the staff develops the final regulatory basis, which the NRC plans to publish in late 2017.  That document will be used in developing a proposed rule to be provided to the Commission in the spring of 2018.  The NRC staff expects to provide a draft final rule to the Commission in fall 2019.

Background  The NRC published an ANPR on the draft regulatory basis for a future power reactor decommission rule in November 2015, seeking public comment on a number of areas to be considered during the rulemaking process.  The NRC began a similar rulemaking process in 2000-2001, but stopped after a stronger focus on security was prompted by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  However, five reactors have permanently shut down since the beginning of 2013, and three more are expected to cease operations by 2019.  The five reactors now undergoing decommissioning required several exemptions from NRC’s regulations for operating reactors to reflect their decommissioning status.  By incorporating changes into regulation, the NRC believes the transition from operation to decommissioning can become more efficient and effective for the agency and the licensee, as well as more open and transparent for the public.

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