U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Like a Good Boy Scout, We’re Always Prepared

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

Because emergency preparedness is so important to the agency’s mission, the NRC has requirements to ensure nuclear power plant operators — and the NRC staff — are prepared to respond to events. And our rules require plants to have up-to-date emergency plans.

The NRC shares federal oversight of nuclear power plant emergency preparedness with FEMA. States have the overall authority for making protective action decisions for residents in the area, such as sheltering and evacuation, if there is an event at a plant. Local emergency responders also have an important role in protecting the public.

Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.

Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.

Plants must practice their emergency plans periodically to make sure plant staff is prepared to deal with a radiological emergency. Every other year, both the NRC and FEMA evaluate emergency response exercises at each operating plant, with both the state and local emergency responders participating.

NRC inspectors monitor the on-site response. They watch over the shoulders of operators and emergency responders to assure they’re correctly evaluating conditions, taking appropriate steps to deal with the reactor conditions and communicating well with off-site agencies, including the NRC. FEMA evaluates the efforts of state and local governments, and emergency responders.

The NRC staff must also be prepared to respond to an emergency. So several times a year, we participate in exercises, too. For example, the NRC’s region I recently participated in an emergency exercise for which we sent a site team to participate alongside plant emergency responders, and state and local emergency response agencies. We had staff in the various emergency facilities, including the simulator, the plant’s emergency operations facility, the joint news center and the state operations center. We also staffed our own incident response center in the Regional Office.

Participating in exercises gives us a chance to practice how we’d respond in an actual event. That means the NRC staff monitors and independently assesses reactor conditions, performs dose calculations, and reviews protective action recommendations. We also “issue” press releases, participate in mock news conferences, and interact with federal and state officials, and local emergency management agencies.

Afterwards, we take a look at what worked, and what didn’t go so well, and make changes to our procedures so that we’re continually improving.

We also learn from real events, like Hurricane Sandy, and put those lessons into place, so that the next time, we’re even better prepared.

“Negative Ion” Technology—What You Should Know

Vince Holahan, Ph.D.
Senior Level Advisor for Health Physics

 

You may have heard about colorful silicone wristbands and athletic tape infused with minerals that are supposed to release “negative ions.” You might even be wearing one. They are touted as improving balance and strength, enhancing flexibility and motion, and improving mental focus and alertness. They’ve been sold on the Internet or in retail stores across the U.S.

The minerals these products contain can vary from volcanic ash and titanium to less familiar ones such as tourmaline, zeolite, germanium and monazite sand. They may also contain naturally occurring radioactive elements, including uranium and thorium. In trace amounts, these materials do not warrant much attention. But the radioactive emissions—that is to say gamma rays—from several of these products were detected on entry to the country by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials using radiation monitoring equipment.

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While they may be radioactive, these products are not expected to create any health impacts. The amount of radiation given off by these products is well below the level that would cause any health concern or illness, even if worn over several years.

But NRC licensing requirements for uranium and thorium depend on the amount of radioactive material present. We commissioned the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to do an analysis that found enough radioactive thorium in several ion technology products that they require an NRC license for manufacture, distribution and possession in the U.S.

NRC staff experts on radiation worked with federal agencies and state regulators to determine the most appropriate path forward. Products containing negative ion technology — that is to say containing licensable amounts of radioactive material — should not be sold at the present time because they have not been licensed, as required, by the NRC.

Anyone wishing to dispose of a negative ion product may simply put it in their trash. This is OK because, although the amount of radioactive material requires licenses for manufacture and sale, it does not require any special handling or disposal.

We cannot say whether these products work as advertised. If you have them or know someone who does, our best advice is to throw them away. Anyone with health concerns should talk to their doctor. In the meantime, we’ll continue to do all we can to make sure they are being regulated properly.

Waste Confidence Final Rule Now Before the Commission

Andy Imboden
Communications Branch Chief
Waste Confidence Directorate

 

After thousands of public comments, dozens of meetings and hundreds of written pages, the NRC Commissioners are now deliberating the draft final rule and draft generic environmental impact statement on the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel – what used to be called “waste confidence.”

Under NRC procedures, and in support of our agency’s transparency and openness goals, we are making three documents including the draft final rule and environmental impact statement available – you can find them on the NRC’s waste confidence webpage:

  • A staff paper, SECY-14-0072: Final Rule: Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel;
  • A draft Federal Register notice on the final rule; and
  • A draft NUREG-2157: Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel – Final Report (GEIS).

To be clear, the draft final rule and draft GEIS are not yet final and are not for public comment. NUREG-2157 includes a lengthy Appendix D that summarizes and responds to more than 33,000 written comments we received when the draft GEIS and proposed rule were published for comment last year. They are “draft final” documents because they need Commission approval before they become final agency action. The Commission may approve, modify, or disapprove them.

Some important points to remember: The final Continued Storage rule represents a generic finding on the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent nuclear fuel beyond the licensed operating life of a reactor. It does not license or approve any storage facility or any nuclear power reactors. The facilities are licensed – or licenses are renewed – based on site-specific application reviews.

The rule is to be used as a part of the overall environmental review for new reactor license applications, current reactor renewal applications, and spent fuel storage facility license reviews in these site-specific proceedings. The GEIS serves as the regulatory basis for the rule, and does not replace the staff’s comprehensive environmental review in individual licensing proceedings.

The name change from “waste confidence” to “continued storage” is just one way the new rule differs from previous versions, including the 2010 version that was struck down by the D.C. Circuit U.S. Appeals Court. (That ruling two years ago prompted the current rulemaking effort.) The name change and other changes are in part due to public comment, and are further explained in the staff paper and the Federal Register notice. The latter also includes an extensive question-and-answer section about the staff’s review and conclusions.

OIG Report: Yucca Mountain Records Retention

Stephen Dingbaum
Assistant Inspector General for Audits

 

oigAn Office of the Inspector General audit that looked at the NRC’s policy and procedures on document management related to the high level waste repository at Yucca Mountain is now available.

The audit set out to determine if agency policy and procedures on document management are compliant with federal requirements and provide reasonable assurance that documentation related to the review of the Yucca Mountain facility has been appropriately managed and retained.

In 2008, DOE submitted a license application to the NRC to build the repository at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada. DOE later filed a motion to withdraw the application in March 2010. NRC staff was subsequently directed to prepare the orderly closeout of their technical review.

The OIG audit report indicates that all records were retained; however, NRC was out of compliance with the agency’s records management policy during the period that the licensing process was suspended. OIG notes the NRC has recently become compliant with its records management policy; therefore, OIG makes no recommendations.

The NRC’s OIG is an independent, objective office tasked with auditing NRC programs and operations with a focus on — among other things — detecting fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.

 

REFRESH: 2.802 vs. 2.206 — What’s the Difference?

George Deegan
Senior Program Analyst (Nuclear Materials/Waste Management)
 

refresh leafMathematically, of course, the answer is 0.596 – a tiny amount – but when referring to two different parts of NRC regulations, there’s a big difference. 10 CFR Part 2.802 and 10 CFR Part 2.206 both describe petition processes. However, 2.802 petitions are requests from the public for a new rule (regulation) while 2.206 petitions are related to enforcement actions.

My area, the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs (FSME), usually gets two to four 2.802 rulemaking petitions a year about medical or general license issues. However, petitions are also addressed in other offices, including the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. The basic steps for submitting petitions for rulemaking to the NRC are found in 10 CFR 2.802, with specific details on what to include in the petition documented in paragraph (c).

For information on the process for submitting a petition for rulemaking to the NRC, please visit this page, which also has a link to the NRC’s petition for rulemaking dockets.

The 2.206 process allows anyone to ask the NRC to take enforcement action against NRC licensees. Depending on the results of its evaluation, NRC could modify, suspend, or revoke an NRC-issued license or take other enforcement action to fix a problem. Additional information on how to submit a petition under 10 CFR 2.206, how the agency processes the request, and status information on 2.206 petitions we’ve received can be found at here.

There have been occasions where a petitioner has invoked the term “2.206” when the request was really a petition for rulemaking under 2.802. Unfortunately, this situation often delays the petition while staff members review the request and get it put into the right process.

The NRC’s petition process provides the public with a voice in how we regulate our licensees. Hopefully, this post clarifies which process is appropriate for a given situation and highlights the difference between the two numbers beyond 0.596!

“Refresh” is a new initiative where we revisit some earlier posts. This originally ran in June 2011.

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