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.

 

Writing Rules on Lessons Learned From Fukushima

Timothy Reed
Project Manager
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

The NRC is moving forward in making permanent some of the lessons we’ve learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The Commission has directed the staff to seek public comments on a draft proposed rule for mitigating “beyond-design-basis events,” which can be stronger than a plant’s design anticipates.

The Commission made a few changes to the proposed rule, which consolidates several of the most safety significant recommendations of the NRC’s task force report from shortly after the events at Fukushima.

One of the Commission’s changes involves Severe Accident Management Guidelines, or SAMGs, which a plant would use in responding to very unlikely accidents. The Commission directed that the plants will continue implementing those guidelines voluntarily. Each plant will document a commitment to keep their SAMGs up to date and integrate SAMGs with other emergency response guidelines.  The NRC will provide periodic oversight of SAMGs through its Reactor Oversight Process. Another Commission change to the proposed rule removes proposed design requirements for new reactor applicants. Instead, the new reactors would be subject to the same performance-based criteria that applies to the currently-licensed fleet.

The proposed rule would apply the requirements of two existing orders, Mitigation Strategies (EA-12-049) and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation (EA-12-051), to any operating or future U.S. nuclear power plant. The Mitigation Strategies Order ensures that if a plant loses power, it will have sufficient procedures, strategies, and equipment to indefinitely cool the reactor core and spent fuel, as well as protect the reactor’s containment. The Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation Order requires the plants to ensure they can monitor spent fuel pool water levels. These two orders are already being implemented across the nuclear fleet.

The proposed rule addresses other task force recommendations by:

  • Establishing standards that ensure plants smoothly transition between different emergency procedures, keeping the plants’ overall strategies coherent and comprehensive;
  • Enhancing emergency response requirements so sites can address events involving more than one reactor or a reactor and spent fuel pool;
  • Requiring training, drills and exercises on the new capabilities;
  • Improving onsite and offsite communication, and
  • Ensuring sites have enough staff to address a multi-reactor event

The rule also incorporates information from the plants’ reevaluated earthquake and flooding hazards. Each plant’s mitigation strategies used to meet the rule’s requirements must remain available in the face of the reevaluated hazards.

The staff expects to provide a proposed final rule to the Commission in December 2016.  The NRC staff expects the rule, if approved, would be effective approximately two years later, with the exact date varying from plant to plant. Although that may seem far away, keep in mind much of the rule is already required by the two orders. Nearly all U.S. plants will comply with those orders by the end of 2016. Safety is being enhanced well before the final rule.

The public can comment on the draft proposed rule until Feb. 11, 2016. To view the proposed rule or submit comments, go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRC-2-14-0240. You may also e-mail comments to Rulemaking.Comments@nrc.gov. The staff is also planning a public meeting during the comment period, and we’ll post the meeting notice on our public website. We look forward to hearing from you. (Just a note, comments to this blog post are not considered official NRC communication. Please use the other methods above if you wish your comments to be formally considered.)

%d bloggers like this: