At an otherwise congenial Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight hearing held last week by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) made clear his strong disagreement with the agency’s November 3 decision to approve a proposed rule amending regulations for nuclear plants undergoing decommissioning.
“I fear the NRC now stands for Not Recognizing Concerns,” Markey said. “The NRC has decided that the best way to shield itself from criticism around the decommissioning process is to take itself out of the process. In the latest version of the proposed decommissioning rule, the NRC would have no ability to approve, no ability to change, no ability to deny plants’ decommissioning proposals, known as post-shutdown decommissioning activities reports. Its only job would be to acknowledge receipt of the report. Our independent nuclear safety regulator would serve as a glorified filing cabinet. Ceding the job of regulator to the nuclear industry itself is not a win for safety, communities, or for the energy sector.”
NRC chairman Christopher Hanson responded, though with less rhetorical flair. “Our decommissioning processes are oriented around one primary goal,” Hanson said. “And that is, ultimately, the greenfield release of the site. And the post-shutdown decommissioning activities report that you mentioned is supposed to outline the activities that our licensees are going to undertake to reach that goal over time. We establish in regulation what is required in that report, and if that report comes to us and is lacking in any way, we can direct our licensees to address those deficiencies and prohibit undertaking any decommissioning activities until those deficiencies are addressed. We also publish that report for review by the communities. We hold two public meetings and solicit public comments so that not only can we rely on our own review with regard to whether that report meets our regulations, but we can solicit input from the community about whether they think it meets our regulations.”
The full hearing—which also covered topics such as COVID-19, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, and small modular reactors—can be viewed here, beginning at about the 33-minute mark. The exchange between Markey and Hanson starts at about the 1-hour-and-22-minute mark.