Feature Article

The NRC’s Operations Center: Exercising authority to respond

One essential lesson from the events at Three Mile Island-2 in March 1979 can be summed up in three words: Preparedness takes practice. The emergency response capacity of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and nuclear plant operators is more than just a set of procedures. Active training and evaluation are required to coordinate effectively with local and state authorities and protect the public in the event of an off-site radiological release.

The NRC’s emergency preparedness and incident response teams work in the Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response (NSIR) to support licensees’ mandated emergency preparedness programs. The Operations Center at NRC headquarters is staffed around-the-clock with NSIR officers who can respond to technical questions and evaluate licensee event reports, yet most of its infrastructure typically stands vacant, awaiting activation for an incident or a planned exercise. With full activation of the NRC’s incident response program, the Operations Center comes to life, and teams of staff populate workstations. That process is regularly tested during exercises that involve NRC licensees, state and local responders, and similar incident response centers at each of the NRC’s four regional offices.

No two exercises are the same. Not only is every exercise dependent on variable human performance and every plant located in a unique community, but emergency preparedness benchmarks continually evolve with advancements in technologies and procedures.

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NRC to hold webinars in October on used fuel storage facility in Texas

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled four webinars in October to present its draft environmental findings and receive comments on Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) proposed consolidated interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas.

Information for the webinars will be posted on the NRC’s Public Meetings webpage. The webinars will be held at different times of the day to maximize opportunities for the public to participate and are tentatively scheduled for the following (all times are Eastern):

  • October 1, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  • October 6, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 8, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  • October 15, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

UAMPS clarifies next steps for planned NuScale SMR deployment

Full-scale mockup of the upper third of the NuScale Power Module. Photo: NuScale

With a design that has just emerged from a rigorous safety evaluation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a customer—Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS)—getting ready to prepare a combined license (COL) application, what is next for Oregon-based NuScale Power and for near-term small modular reactor prospects in the United States? As milestones are reached, many want to know.

NuScale plans to supply twelve 60-MWe modules for a 720-MWe plant—called the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) by UAMPS—to be sited at Idaho National Laboratory. A smaller, 50-MWe module version of NuScale’s design recently became the first SMR to receive a final safety evaluation report (FSER) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The NRC design approval represents a significant de-risking factor for the CFPP,” said UAMPS spokesperson LaVarr Webb. The project is “making steady progress,” Webb said, adding that “UAMPS General Manager and CEO Doug Hunter has said it is much more important to do the project right than to do it fast.”

Licensing board denies reopening Holtec CISF license proceeding

A licensing board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an order last week denying calls to reopen proceedings against Holtec International’s application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage site for used nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico.

Fasken Land and Minerals, an oil and gas company based in Midland, Texas, along with Permian Basin Land and Royalty Owners, an association of oil and gas producers and royalty owners (collectively called Fasken), filed motions with the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) seeking to reopen the record and submit an amended late contention against Holtec’s license application.

More from UWC 2020: Round 3

This year’s Utility Working Conference Virtual Summit, held on August 11, had a dynamic opening plenary and a packed roster of informative sessions. Following is a recap of a 4:00 p.m. (EDT) session that took place.

Don't miss Newswire's coverage of the opening plenary and the sessions at 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. (EDT).


Shaping a regulatory framework to support future innovation

Session organizers Amir Afzali and Brandon Chisholm of Southern Company crafted a session titled “Advanced Reactors: Innovation in Nuclear Technology Needs Agile, Efficient, and Predictable Regulatory Framework” in the Regulatory Relations track of the UWC Virtual Summit. The panel discussion was focused on how to enable innovation in a regulated industry to support advanced reactor deployments within 10 years. “The right regulatory framework can enable innovation, and right-sizing the regulatory requirements incentivizes innovation,” Chisholm said during his opening comments.

NRC schedules webinars on Holtec’s proposed New Mexico storage site

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled four webinars in late August and early September to present its draft environmental findings and receive comments on Holtec International’s proposed consolidated spent nuclear fuel storage facility in New Mexico. Webinars were previously held on June 23 and July 9.

As published in the August 13 Federal Register, the public comment webinars will be held on August 20 from 6–9 p.m., August 25 from 2–5 p.m., August 26 from 6–9 p.m., and September 2 from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. All times are Eastern. Information for the webinars is posted on the NRC’s Public Meetings webpage.

UWC Virtual Summit takes place today - Register now!

The 2020 Utility Working Conference Virtual Summit promises to be a valuable experience for all attendees—and may exceed previous in-person UWC meetings in some ways.

“This program overall is the most aggressive and complex that we have ever put together,” said Vince Gilbert, this year’s technical program chair, who has been actively involved with the UWC since 1998.

The normally three-day event is being shortened to a one-day online meeting—August 11—due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Don't miss out on this unique event. Register now for the virtual summit.

Can't participate live? No problem, you can access all of the sessions afterward on demand at your convenience.

Comment period extended for Texas interim SNF site

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the deadline for public comments on a draft environmental impact statement for Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) license application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and greater-than-Class C waste in Andrews County, Texas. The NRC said the 60-day extension, to November 3, was to allow more time for members of the public to develop and submit comments in light of the events associated with the COVID-19 health emergency.

Sixty-day extension for comments on proposed SMR rule

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the deadline for comments on its “Proposed Rule for Emergency Preparedness for Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies” to allow more time for members of the public and other stakeholders to develop and submit their comments. The proposed rule and associated draft regulatory guide apply to non-light-water reactors and certain nonpower facilities, and were originally published in the Federal Register on May 12 with a deadline of July 27. The new deadline is September 25.

House committee marks up Energy and Water Development bill

The House Appropriations Committee held its full committee markup of the Energy and Water Development bill on July 13. (The Bill Report provides a more detailed funding breakdown.) The final bill passed the committee by a party line vote of 30-21. No schedule for Floor consideration of the bill has been set, but it is likely to happen next week or the week after.

NRC recommends local advisory boards for decommissioning

Based on insights gained from public meetings and webinars, as well as feedback from a 2019 questionnaire, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is recommending that community advisory boards be formed to foster communication between local communities and licensees of nuclear power plants undergoing decommissioning. The recommendation comes in a report the NRC submitted to Congress on July 1 identifying best practices for establishing local community advisory boards, also known as community engagement panels, following the shutdown of nuclear power reactors.

Draft appropriations bill hikes nuclear energy funding

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday released a draft of the fiscal year 2021 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill, calling for higher levels of funding for nuclear energy. The legislation would fund activities at the Departments of Energy and Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a number of related agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

NRC extends comment period again for Holtec site

For the second time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the deadline for submitting comments on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for Holtec International’s application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and greater-than-Class C waste in southeastern New Mexico. As published in the June 24 Federal Register, the new deadline is September 22.

Petition window opened for Oklo’s microreactor license application

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced a notice of opportunity to intervene in an adjudicatory hearing on Oklo Power’s combined license application (COLA) for construction of a microreactor at Idaho National Laboratory. The notice, dated June 24, was published in the Federal Register on June 30, opening a 60-day window for petitions.

Feature Article

Risk-informed, performance-based safety: Past, present, and future

Since the 1980s, the nuclear power industry in the United States has worked to enhance the regulatory framework for nuclear facilities by making it more risk-informed and performance-based (RIPB). This has had some success in improving safety and reducing regulatory burden by focusing resources on the most risk--significant areas and allowing greater flexibility in choosing ways to achieve desired safety outcomes. However, there are further opportunities for the use of RIPB approaches in addressing current regulations and applying implementation tools, and in developing new RIPB regulations and advanced tools to further sharpen the focus on risk and performance outcomes.

NRC extends comment period again for Holtec storage site due to COVID-19

For the second time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the deadline for submitting comments on the draft environmental impact statement for Holtec International’s application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and greater-than-Class C waste in southeastern New Mexico. As published in the June 24 Federal Register, the new deadline for comments is September 22.

Aurora’s docketing marks dawn for advanced reactor licensing

Artist’s conception of Oklo’s Aurora. (Image: Gensler)

Oklo's 1.5-MWe fast spectrum design known as Aurora is the first advanced non–light-water reactor to be accepted for a licensing review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Both the reactor’s design and the anticipated licensing process mark a major departure from large light-water reactor design and licensing.

NRC to host webinar on Holtec’s storage site application

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a webinar on June 23 to discuss Holtec International’s license application to build and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and greater-than-Class C waste in southeastern New Mexico.

Christopher Hanson sworn in as fifth commissioner

Hanson

The vacant seat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was filled on June 8, when Christopher T. Hanson was sworn in as the agency’s fifth commissioner. The vacancy was created in April 2019 with the resignation of Stephen Burns. Hanson will serve the remainder of Burns’s term, which expires on June 30, 2024.

Beyond Nuclear appeals NRC decision on CISF

The antinuclear organization Beyond Nuclear has filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requesting a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to deny its petition against Holtec International’s application to build and operate a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico.