On March 10, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that the agency was making publicly available a pre-publication draft regulatory basis for a future power reactor decommissioning rule. The intent is to provide an efficient decommissioning process; reduce the need for exemptions from existing regulations; and, support the principles of good regulation—including openness, clarity, and reliability.
A notice regarding the draft regulatory basis was published in the Federal Register later in March 2017, initiating a 90-day public comment period.
NRC released the preliminary draft document in order to facilitate discussion during the agency’s annual Regulatory Information Conference, which was held from March 14-16, 2017. (See LLW Notes, January/February 2017, pp. 40-41.) The conference included a March 15 technical session on power reactor decommissioning.
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.
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.
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.
The pre-publication draft regulatory basis for a future power reactor decommissioning rule is available on the NRC website at http://ric.nrc-gateway.gov/docs/abstracts/sessionabstract-20.htm.