NRC Issues Regulatory Basis for New Decommissioning Regulations

On November 27, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published in the Federal Register the regulatory basis for proposed new regulations on the decommissioning of commercial nuclear power reactors.  (See 82 Federal Register 55, 954 dated November 27, 2017.) The regulatory basis supports a proposed rule, which the agency expects to publish for public comment next year. The regulatory basis titled, “Regulatory Improvements for Power Reactors Transitioning to Decommissioning,” has been assigned NRC Docket ID 2015-0070 and can be found at https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1721/ML17215AO1O.pdf. Overview In the regulatory basis, the NRC staff concludes that there is sufficient justification to proceed with new regulations in the following areas:

  • emergency preparedness;
  • physical security;
  • cyber security;
  • drug and alcohol testing;
  • training requirements for certified fuel handlers;
  • decommissioning trust funds;
  • financial protection requirements and indemnity agreements; and,
  • application of the backfit rule.
In many cases, these new regulations would formalize steps to transition power reactors from operating status to decommissioning, without the use of exemptions and license amendments.  The NRC staff also recommends clarifying requirements regarding topics such as spent fuel management and environmental reporting requirements. The NRC staff recommends addressing some topics via updated guidance or inspection procedures in lieu of rulemaking.  These topics include:
  • the role of state and local governments in the decommissioning process;
  • certain staffing requirements; and,
  • aging management of certain plant systems, structures and components.
In addition to the regulatory basis, NRC staff plans to publish a revised preliminary draft of the regulatory analysis, which will update and refine the analysis of costs and benefits. Background  The NRC published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (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.  (See LLW Notes, November/December 2017, pp. 37-38.)  In March 2017, the agency issued a draft regulatory basis in the Federal Register.  (See LLW Notes, March/April 2107, pp. 23-24.)  The NRC staff considered public comments received during both stages in preparing this regulatory basis. 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. The regulatory basis is publicly available in the NRC’s ADAMS online document database at accession number ML17215A010.  For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.