Japan Lessons-Learned Division
When the NRC establishes a new requirement or asks its licensees for information, the agency sets appropriate deadlines. Plants usually meet those deadlines, but sometimes there are complications and a licensee needs more time than was originally anticipated.
The NRC established such deadlines for its post-Fukushima actions and, in some cases, licensees have asked for more time to complete the work. For instance, a plant might need information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to finish reevaluating its flooding hazard.
What happens if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still working on that information as the NRC’s deadline approaches? Another plant might be nearing compliance with all aspects of the Mitigating Strategies Order, but unforeseen prolonged and severe winter weather causes construction delays with the equipment storage building.
Other plants have announced that they will be shutting down in a few years, but after some deadlines for Fukushima-related work will have passed. What do all these plants do? They formally ask the NRC to revise the plant’s deadlines or relieve the plant of its requirement.
The NRC considers many things when reviewing these schedule change requests, including:
- Has the plant adequately justified its request?
- Is the amount of extra time requested reasonable?
- How will the plant continue to ensure safety in the period between the initial and proposed due dates?
If a licensee does not provide enough information for the NRC to make a decision, it will either request additional information from the licensee or deny the request. The NRC takes extension requests very seriously and ensures that each is thoroughly reviewed – by project managers, technical experts, NRC lawyers and enforcement experts, and NRC management (in some cases, up to the Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation).
Plants that are permanently shutting down have other options. Depending on the timing of their shutdown, they may request that NRC orders requiring certain actions be cancelled or rescinded for them. The NRC will only rescind an order after the plant has certified it has permanently ceased operations and is no longer an operating reactor. This ensures the requirements stay in place if the plant later decides to keep operating.
Plants can also ask to delay certain work on the orders, which was the case for the recently-approved Oyster Creek relaxation request. The delay is not indefinite, though. If Oyster Creek does not shut down as planned, it must complete the work by a specified date.
Plants would follow a similar process to ask for schedule relaxations on the information requests (for example, the Vermont Yankee licensee requested to be relieved of responding to the request once the plant was shut down).
All of these requests get plenty of NRC review time. The NRC staff carefully considers each request on a plant-specific basis, and the NRC would only approve a relaxation request if a licensee provides good justification and demonstrates that safety would be maintained if the request were approved.
Even with the limited number of relaxation requests approved by the NRC, the industry is well on its way to appropriately implementing all post-Fukushima safety enhancements.