The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects to publish its proposed rulemaking for nuclear power reactors transitioning to decontamination and decommissioning in early 2022, according to Patricia Holahan, director of the NRC’s Division of Decommissioning, Uranium Recovery, and Waste Programs. Holahan spoke during the December 1 opening plenary session of the topical meeting, Decommissioning, Environmental Science and Remote Technology 2021, held in conjunction with the 2021 ANS Winter Meeting and Technology Expo.
On November 3, the NRC commissioners approved the publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register, subject to edits and comments by the commissioners. According to Holahan, who also serves as special assistant to the director of the NRC’s Division of Rulemaking, Environmental, and Financial Support, the NRC staff will incorporate the commission-directed changes into the proposed rule before it is published in the FR. The new rule is intended to make the decommissioning process more efficient by reducing the need for license exemptions and amendments.
“There are various other pieces that we have to put together—the guidance, the information collection requirements—so we’re anticipating getting it out in early 2022,” Holahan said. “It won’t be this year. It will probably be in the February-March time frame.” Holahan added that she didn’t think the NRC staff would have trouble making the required changes.
Comment period: The publication of the proposed rule will initiate a 75-day comment period, during which the NRC will gather public feedback on the rulemaking. Holahan said that the NRC may extend the comment period if requested. The NRC also intends to conduct at least two public meetings on the proposed rule during the comment period.
“We are going to take extensive measures to ensure awareness and a wide range of input from the public to ensure we get this right,” Holahan said, adding that public input had played an important role in the development of the rule when the NRC published an advance notice of the proposed rulemaking in 2015, and again when a draft regulatory basis was published in 2017.
Improving the process: Holahan outlined a number of additional steps the NRC is taking to improve the decommissioning process, including updating agency guidance and inspection procedures. This includes, she said, revisions being made to the two volumes of NUREG-1757: Consolidated Decommissioning Guidance: Decommissioning Process for Materials Licensees (NUREG-1757, vol. 1, rev. 2), and Consolidated Decommissioning Guidance: Characterization, Survey, and Determination of Radiological Criteria (NUREG-1757, vol. 2, rev. 1).
Volume 2 was published for comment in late 2020, and Holahan said that NRC staff is currently analyzing the comments received. She expects the final guidance to be issued by June 2022.
Holahan also said that in response to the growing number of nuclear power reactors entering decommissioning, the NRC is adjusting its budgeting process, allocating more licensing and oversight resources for plants taking on an accelerated decommissioning schedule.
“We realized that with a number of sites coming in with license termination plans, we didn’t have sufficient resources at headquarters or the regional offices,” she said.