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Category Archives: General

Our New, Improved Petition for Rulemaking Process

Jennifer Borges
Regulations Specialist

A Typical PETITION for Rulemaking Process graphic_ICONS_vert_r12finalAfter several years of work, the NRC has issued a final rule that amends the process we follow whenever someone asks the agency to issue new rules or change existing ones. We call this our petition for rulemaking (PRM) process, and it is described in sections 2.802 and 2.803 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The final rule became effective Nov. 6.

As we said in our previous blog, “You Can Ask the NRC to Change Its Rules” (May 2014), the revisions expand a petitioner’s access to the NRC by allowing consultation with our staff both before and after filing a petition for rulemaking. The revisions also restructure and clarify the content requirements for a petition for rulemaking; clarify our evaluation criteria; explain our internal process for receiving, closing, and resolving a petition; and update information for tracking the status of petitions and subsequent rulemaking actions.

So that you can better understand how to submit a petition, the NRC staff has updated the rulemaking petition process website and posted a new backgrounder that explains the PRM process in plain language.

Anyone needing help with the process may contact the NRC. The NRC staff can describe the process for filing, docketing, tracking, closing, amending, withdrawing and resolving petitions for rulemaking. The staff also can provide status information. Our Petition for Rulemaking Docket website also has status information on all petitions for rulemaking dating back to 1999. The petitions are organized by the year they were docketed. You can visit this website to check on issues that may interest you.

Incidentally, when we “docket” a petition, it means the petition and all related documents will be put in an electronic file for the public to read. We docket only the petitions that include the required information, raise an issue that warrants further consideration and ask for a change that is within the NRC’s legal authority. After the petition is docketed the NRC begins to evaluate the issues the petitioner raises to determine if they should be considered in rulemaking.

The NRC currently has 20 petitions under review. In 2015 so far we have docketed six PRMs. Three address whether to change the basis for our radiation protection standards. The others deal with whether “important to safety” needs to be better defined; whether the NRC should require temperature monitoring devices in the core of nuclear power reactors; and whether to make certain optional risk-informed regulations more widely available.

If we are taking comments on a petition, there will be a “comment now” button that takes you to a Web form you can use to communicate with us. You can even receive an alert when something is added to the docket. To subscribe, click on the docket link, then click “sign up for email alerts” on the right-hand side.

We were recognized last year for our work in educating the public about how to submit a petition. A November 2014 report to the Administrative Conference of the United States applauds the NRC for regularly communicating with petitioners and reporting on the status of petitions. We hope you agree and find our new rule makes our process even better.


It’s Mole Day for the Whole Day at the NRC

6946377219_6486264c6f_zChemistry fans often refer to Oct. 23 as “Mole Day,” since the numbers 10 and 23 are part of a basic constant in chemistry, the mole. This unit describes how many atoms exist in a given sample of any substance, so scientists use moles to simplify lots of calculations. For example, when an average nuclear reactor first starts up its core has about 120,000 kilograms of uranium in its fuel. A mole of uranium weighs about 238 grams, so a brand-new core has about 504,000 moles of uranium. A plant scientist or NRC specialist would base some core calculations on a more exact definition of moles in the core.


Throwback Thursday – Save the Date for the RIC

tbtcrowdricThe NRC’s 28th Annual Regulatory Information Conference is scheduled for March 8-10, 2016, at the Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center just off of Rockville Pike in North Bethesda, Md. So mark your calendars! Pre-registration will be available online beginning in early January 2016.

In this photo, Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, Jr., gives a presentation during the 2004 RIC. This Boston native and self-described John Kennedy Democrat was first appointed to the Commission by President Clinton in 1996. Commissioner McGaffigan died Sept. 7, 2007, after a long battle with melanoma. He holds what distinction among former and present Commission members?

REFRESH — Who Sets National Nuclear Energy Policy?


refresh leafWho decides if the U.S. is going to use nuclear energy to meet this country’s electric needs? It’s a question we get here at the NRC not infrequently. The short answer: Congress and the President. Together they make the nation’s laws and policies directing civilian nuclear activity – for both nuclear energy and nuclear materials used in science, academia, and industry.

Federal laws, like the Atomic Energy Act, set out our national nuclear policy. For example, in the Atomic Energy Act, Congress provided that the nation will “encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.” Other federal laws, like the Energy Policy Act of 2005, call for the federal government to provide support of, research into, and development of nuclear technologies and nuclear energy. The President, as the head of the executive branch, is responsible for implementing these policies.

But sometimes, things get confusing as to who does what when it comes to putting these laws into practice! Although the NRC is a federal government agency with the word “nuclear” in its name, the NRC plays no role in making national nuclear policy. Instead, the NRC’s sole mission is to regulate civilian use of nuclear materials, ensuring that the public health, safety, and the environment are adequately protected.

The NRC’s absence from nuclear policymaking is no oversight, but a deliberate choice. Before there was an NRC, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was responsible for both developing and regulating nuclear activities. In 1974, Congress disbanded the AEC, and assigned all of the AEC’s responsibilities for developing and supporting nuclear activities to what is now the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). At the same time, Congress created the NRC as an independent regulatory agency, isolating it from executive branch direction and giving it just one task – regulating the safety of civilian nuclear activities.

Today, the DOE, under the direction of the President, supports federal research and development of nuclear technologies and nuclear energy in accordance with federal laws and policy goals. At the DOE, the Office of Nuclear Energy takes the lead on these programs.

Since its creation  four decades ago, the NRC’s only mission has been to regulate the safe civilian use of nuclear material. For that reason, the most important word here in the NRC’s name is not “Nuclear,” but “Regulatory.” Because the NRC has no stake in nuclear policymaking, the NRC can focus on its task of protecting public health and safety from radioactive hazards through regulation and enforcement.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we revisit previous posts. This originally ran in August 2012.


The Open Forum is Open for Business

Holly Harrington
Blog Moderator

communicationwordcloudWe created the Open Forum section of the NRC blog more than four years ago. It was not part of our original plan, but our blog comment guidelines stipulated that comments needed to be related to the topic of the post to which they are submitted. We quickly realized there were a number of comments being submitted that didn’t adhere to this guideline and would have therefore not been posted, but otherwise met the comment criteria. And we wanted to be able to post them. So we decided we needed a place where anyone could bring up any topic they wish (related to the NRC).

And so the Open Forum section was created.

Since its creation there have been more than 300 submitted comments on a wide range of topics including climate change, nuclear power’s future and solar storms.

Comments on the Open Forum (as with the rest of the blog) are moderated and must adhere to the Comment Guidelines. Otherwise, the platform is open for any NRC-related topic you’d like to bring up or to comment on. It’s important to note that blog comments are not considered formal communication with the NRC. Questions and concerns can always be submitted in a variety of formal ways. Safety or security allegations should not be submitted via the blog, and will not be posted if submitted. For more information, go here.

You can easily find the Open Forum section listed on left side of every page of the blog. You can also sign up to receive notice of new comments to the section by clicking on “Reply” at the bottom of the comments and then clicking the “Notify me of new comments via email” box.


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