The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued its Enforcement Program Annual Report for calendar year 2019, showing that 57 escalated enforcement actions were taken against NRC licensees last year. These actions included notices of violation (NOV ) of Severity Level III or higher, NOVs associated with findings of low-to-moderate, substantial, or high safety significance (color coded as white, yellow, or red findings, respectively), civil penalties, and orders, including confirmatory orders.
The breakdown: Of the 57 actions in 2019, 13 (23 percent) involved civil penalties totaling $732,250, nine (16 percent) were enforcement orders without an imposed penalty, and 35 (61 percent) were escalated NOVs without a proposed penalty. “In general, the NRC considers a large percentage of NOVs without civil penalties as a positive outcome, because it demonstrates that most licensees identify and correct violations,” according to the report. (A licensee will often be able to avoid a fine by identifying the violation and taking corrective actions to prevent a recurrence.)
Nuclear materials users were the major culprits in 2019, receiving 34 escalated actions (60 percent), followed by operating reactor licensees, with 18 (32 percent). The NRC also issued two escalated actions to a fuel facility (one to the facility and one to an individual associated with the facility), one to a new reactor facility (Vogtle-3 and -4), and two to decommissioning and low-level waste licensees.
The report also notes that while the 2019 total for escalated enforcement actions is higher than 2018’s—57 to 45 (a 27 percent increase)—it remains well below the five-year average of 72 . (The years 2015, 2016, and 2017 were particularly action-packed with escalated enforcement, with 82, 91, and 84, respectively.)
Background: The sources of the NRC’s enforcement authority are the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended, and the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Energy Policy Act also expanded the definition of byproduct material, placing additional byproduct material under the NRC’s jurisdiction, including both naturally occurring and accelerator-produced radioactive materials.