Feature Article

The NRC: Observations on commissioner appointments

In 2015, we wrote an article for Nuclear News analyzing the history of commissioners appointed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and assessing their backgrounds, experience, and qualifications at the time of their appointment. At the time, ANS had not established a formal position statement on NRC commissioner appointees. Our article provided an objective assessment of historical patterns and was used to develop ANS position statement #77, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2016). This article draws upon the 2015 article and provides updated data and analysis. Also, the recommendations of the position statement are applied to the current vacancy on the commission.

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NRC grants Duane Arnold emergency planning exemptions

NextEra Energy will be allowed to revise the emergency preparedness plan for its Duane Arnold nuclear power plant to reflect the plant’s decommissioning status, having been granted exemptions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s emergency preparedness and planning requirements, the agency announced on February 17. A single-unit boiling water reactor plant located in Palo, Iowa, approximately eight miles northwest of Cedar Rapids, Duane Arnold was shut down in August 2020 after a derecho damaged the plant’s cooling towers.

The NRC regularly issues exemptions from its licensing requirements to nuclear power plants that are transitioning to decommissioning, where the risk of an off-site radiological release is significantly lower, and the types of possible accidents significantly fewer, than at an operating reactor.

Once NextEra implements the exemptions, state and local governments can rely on comprehensive emergency management (“all hazard”) planning for off-site emergency response should an event occur at Duane Arnold. As a result, there will not be a 10-mile emergency planning zone as currently identified in Duane Arnold’s license. The plant will maintain an on-site emergency plan and response capabilities, including the continued notification of state government officials in the event of an emergency declaration.

NIST reactor remains shut down as NRC investigates radiation release

Neutron measurement studies at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) are on hold for an investigation of a different sort. On February 9, less than a week after elevated radiation levels were detected as the NCNR research reactor was powered up following a scheduled maintenance outage, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission began an inspection at the facility. According to NIST, the reactor will remain shut down until the cause of the release is corrected.

“The first step will be to develop a plan for safely assessing the condition of the reactor so that the root cause of the elevated radiation levels can be investigated,” NIST announced on February 5. “Once that root cause is determined, NIST will identify and then implement all necessary corrective actions.”

PRA standard for Advanced Non-Light Water Reactors just issued

ANSI/ASME/ANS RA-S-1.4-2021, “Probabilistic Risk Assessment Standard for Advanced Non-Light Water Reactor Nuclear Power Plants,” has just been issued. Approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on January 28, 2021, this joint American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)/American Nuclear Society (ANS) standard sets forth requirements for probabilistic risk assessments (PRAs) used to support risk-informed decisions for commercial nuclear power plants and prescribes a method for applying these requirements for specific applications.

ANSI/ANS-RA-S-1.4-2021 and its preview are available in the ANS Standards Store.

NRC report updates decommissioning cost guidance

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has updated its guidance for nuclear power plant owners and operators in estimating the cost of decommissioning their reactors. Licensed power reactor operators are required under NRC regulations to annually adjust the estimated costs (in current year dollars) of decommissioning their plants to ensure that adequate funds are available when needed.

NUREG-1307, Revision 18, Report on Waste Burial Charges: Changes in Decommissioning Waste Disposal Costs at Low-Level Waste Burial Facilities, issued on February 3, explains the formula acceptable to the NRC for determining the minimum decommissioning fund requirements for nuclear power reactor licensees. Specifically, NUREG-1307 provides the adjustment factor and updates the values for the labor, energy, and waste burial escalation factors of the minimum formula.

NRC opens Palisades license proceedings to public comment

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has opened for public comment the license transfer proceedings for the Palisades nuclear power plant, with the opportunity to request a hearing and petition for leave to intervene. Notice of the open proceedings was published in the February 4 Federal Register. Deadlines are February 24 for requests for a hearing and March 8 for comments.

In December, Entergy Corporation and Holtec International jointly submitted an application to the NRC for approval of the transfer of the licenses for the Palisades nuclear plant–located in Covert, Mich.—to Holtec, following the plant’s permanent shutdown and defueling in the spring of 2022. The application also requests approval of the license transfer of Entergy’s decommissioned Big Rock Point facility near Charlevoix, Mich., where only the independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) remains.

New York sues NRC over Indian Point decommissioning

Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, N.Y. Photo: Entergy Nuclear

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit on behalf of the State of New York against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the sale of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to subsidiaries of Holtec International for decommissioning.

Filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on January 22, the suit challenges the NRC’s denial of New York’s petition for a hearing regarding the transfer of Indian Point’s licenses from owner Entergy to Holtec, as well as the NRC’s initial approval of the license transfer. The NRC approved the transfer in November 2020 while challenges from the state and other groups were still being adjudicated. The NRC issued its order denying New York’s petition to intervene on January 15.

The transfer of ownership of the plant from Entergy to Holtec is targeted to occur after Indian Point-3 shuts down in April 2021. Indian Point-2 permanently ceased operations in April 2020, and Indian Point-1 has been shut down since 1974. The pressurized-water reactors are located in Buchanan, N.Y., approximately 24 miles north of New York City.

Biden designates Hanson as the 18th NRC chairman

NRC commissioner Christopher T. Hanson participates in the commission briefing on the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: NRC

President Biden designated Christopher T. Hanson as the 18th chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the weekend. Hanson replaces Kristine Svincki who resigned from the NRC as chairman on January 20. Svinicki was the longest-serving commissioner in the agency's history (2008-2021).

“I am honored to have been selected by President Biden to serve as the next NRC chairman and to lead the talented women and men who oversee the licensing and regulation of our nation’s civilian use of radioactive materials,” said Hanson. “I look forward to building on Chairman Svinicki’s many accomplishments as the commission takes on new challenges and faces new opportunities as nuclear energy technologies continue to evolve and uses of nuclear materials expand in the future.”

Former NRC chairs issue vaccine timeline recommendation to CDC

Five former chairmen of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission—Stephen Burns, Allison Macfarlane, Nils Diaz, Richard Meserve, and Dale Klein—signed a letter to José Romero, Arkansas health secretary and chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization advisory committee, requesting that the advisory committee update its recommendation for COVID-19 vaccine allocation guidance for the energy workforce (including nuclear energy workers).

Currently, the CDC has four phases for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Those phases are numbered:

  • 1a (the current phase), reserved for healthcare workers and those living in long-term care facilities;
  • 1b, reserved for people 75 years and older and frontline essential workers;
  • 1c, reserved for persons 65 to 74 years old, those aged 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and other categories of essential workers (this includes energy workers); and
  • 2, for everyone else that was not named in the previous three phases aged 16 to 64.

DOE lists five stories to watch in 2021

Despite all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. nuclear energy community pulled out some big wins in 2020, and this year could be even bigger, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

From deep space exploration on Mars to a historic new reactor coming online in Waynesboro, Ga., 2021 will be a record-breaking year for the industry—both good and potentially bad.

Find the full details on the DOE-NE website.

The year in review 2020: Waste Management

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Waste Management section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Waste Management section

  • First-ever cleanup of uranium enrichment plant celebrated at Oak Ridge: The completion of the decades-long effort to clean up the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant was celebrated on October 13, with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette joining U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and other state and community leaders at the East Tennessee Technology Park, where the uranium enrichment complex once stood. Read more.

The year in review 2020: Power and Operations

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Power and Operations section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Power and Operations section

Statement from the American Nuclear Society on the announced departure of NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki

On behalf of America’s nuclear professionals, we thank Chairman Kristine Svinicki for her service and leadership at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Chairman Svinicki announces she will resign on Jan. 20

Chairman Kristine Svinicki announced today that she intends to leave the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on January 20. She issued a statement in a press release from the NRC.

Chairman Svinicki has served as a commissioner under three administrations and is the longest serving member of the commission. She was first appointed to the commission by President Bush in 2007, was reappointed in 2012 by President Obama, and was designated chairman by President Donald J. Trump on January 23, 2017. Her term would have ended on June 30, 2022.

Congress set to pass year-end funding bill

The final text of the approximately 5,600-page Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 was released on December 22. While the timing of final passage is still fluid, the Senate was expected to approve it and send it on to President Trump to sign into law, according to John Starkey, American Nuclear Society government relations director.

Below are some key funding highlights from the legislation pertaining to nuclear energy.

NRC withdraws LLW rule interpretation

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has withdrawn a proposed interpretation of its low-level radioactive waste regulations that would have permitted licensees to dispose of waste by transferring it to persons who hold specific NRC exemptions. “The proposal is being withdrawn based on the NRC staff’s assessment that the proposed changes may not benefit the regulatory framework for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste,” the NRC said in a December 17 Federal Register notice.

After releasing the proposed rule for public comment on March 6, 2020, the NRC received about 200 individual comment submissions and approximately 15,000 form letter submissions, the vast majority of which were in opposition to the proposed rule.

“We have strongly disputed the argument by various groups who misrepresented the proposal as deregulation of radioactive waste disposal,” NRC spokesperson David McIntyre told the Courthouse News Service. “This would not have changed anything, just made an existing case-by-case approval process more efficient.”

NRC issues draft decommissioning guidance for comment

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued the draft report, Consolidated Decommissioning Guidance, Characterization, Survey, and Determination of Radiological Criteria (NUREG-1757, Volume 2, Revision 2), with a request for comments by February 8.

NUREG-1757, which is intended for use by applicants, licensees, and the NRC staff, was last updated in 2006. This latest revision addresses lessons learned and experience gained from the review of license termination plans, decommissioning plans, and final status surveys for licensees undergoing license termination since then.

Notice of the draft NUREG was published in the December 8 Federal Register.