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Incorporating Enhanced Fines Into the NRC’s Enforcement Policy

Russell Arrighi
Senior Enforcement Specialist

Starting next month, the NRC’s tools for enforcing our regulations will get a boost through increased fines, referred to as “civil penalties” in the NRC’s regulations and policies. The agency’s enforcement staff is working these changes into the process for assigning penalties when a person or company breaks our rules.

budgetThe NRC has always had the authority, under the Atomic Energy Act, to levy fines. We just issued an interim final rule that increases the maximum civil monetary penalty for violations of the Act to $280,469 per violation, per day. That’s double the previous maximum fine.

This change stems from the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, which helps keep fines high enough to deter violations. The law required federal agencies to make an initial “catch-up” adjustment by July 1, 2016, effective by August 1. The NRC and other agencies must also make annual adjustments for inflation beginning in 2017.

The NRC is making changes to its Enforcement Policy to keep the policy’s dollar amounts in line with the new maximum fine. For instance, we’re doubling the base civil penalty that applies to nuclear plants and other large licensees for the most severe violations.

We’re also increasing the policy’s lesser penalties for other licensee types, such as material users, to maintain the proportional relationship between penalties. An exception to these changes involves fines for the loss, abandonment, or improper transfer or disposal of regulated material. The NRC can adjust these fines relative to the estimated or actual cost of authorized disposal.

You can find more information on these changes through a set of Questions and Answers we’ve posted on the Office of Enforcement’s section of the NRC website.

6 responses to “Incorporating Enhanced Fines Into the NRC’s Enforcement Policy

  1. Anonymous July 28, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Thank you all for your engagement on this blog post. We ask that you please keep your comments within the scope of the topic, revised fine amounts. Further off-topic comments will be moved to the Open Forum.

    NRC Moderator

  2. CaptD July 27, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    SCE, the operator of San Onofre deserves the maximum fine since they caused the destruction of all four new replacement steam generators while at the same time putting egg on the face of Region IV.
    More here: #SanOnofreGate
    The hashtag that will allow you to keep up to date on the ongoing investigation into the multi-billion $ SCE-CPUC ripoff.

    • Engineer-Poet July 28, 2016 at 1:18 am

      SCE, the operator of San Onofre deserves the maximum fine since they caused the destruction of all four new replacement steam generators while at the same time putting egg on the face of Region IV.

      In other words, you want to punish SCE not for having a NPP, but for having one and shutting it down… which is the very thing you’ve been demanding for years.

      They literally can do nothing right in your eyes, even after giving you what you asked for.

      For the record, San Onofre unit 2 had no leaks in its steam generators.  Operation at “redline”, aka maximum rated power, is not just permitted but required by NRC regulation at least for proof testing.  SCE could have plugged the leaking tubes and run the units at lower power, but was stymied by the NRC move to require hearings before the plant could be re-started… whereupon, given the political climate in California and Washington, the utility caved to its opponents.

      We see the intense and vicious political pressure SCE was under.  Diablo Canyon, a plant with absolutely nothing wrong with it, in a state allegedly committed to de-carbonization of its electric supply, will de-commission next decade due to the demands of the same forces.  SCE faced the same impossible demands to re-license SONGS long enough to pay for another set of steam generators.  It could not win by trying to continue.  Now you insist that it not be allowed to make good its forced losses either.

      I don’t see any real solution to this except to make Californians lie in the bed they’ve made.  The social cost of CO2 emissions (or equivalent) is now computed to be up to $220 per ton (at least 20x as much for methane emissions, as at Aliso Ranch).  Californians should be forced to pay for the added emissions from the shutdown of SONGS, and have the total from Diablo Canyon added to their bill unless they immediately reverse the conditions attached to the extension of its coastal land lease.  In the interest of social justice, these costs should be billed exclusively to high-income Californians as a capitation tax, not a tax on income.  Silicon Valley’s brainpower should be forced to pay for its politics.  When California is finally rid of its middle-class and is a Brazilian quilt of Malibu wealth and favelas, maybe the latter can approve a Proposition to make the former pay for the consequences of its insane ideology.

  3. Engineer-Poet July 26, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Steep and escalating fines for violations of increasingly picayune rules.  All imposed on the safest and most reliable source of electric generation the USA has ever had, and on exactly none of its competitors, even if they emit more radioisotopes to the environment in their normal operation than any nuclear plant has ever been allowed to.

    What is the point of this again?

    If the NRC really wants to do its job it needs to police the production and disposal of NORM, Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, by the oil and gas industry.  It needs to police the production and emission of radon from natural gas.  If public exposures to radiation are so important, then ALL must be taken equally seriously.

  4. Public Pit Bull July 25, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Glad to see this NRC. Certainly a step in the right direction. A Civil Penalty (CP) and the huge adverse publicity that goes with it is a big deterrent not only to the offender but sends a clear message to other licensees as well.
    As an old timer in the nuclear field though I have a question.
    You say the increase in the daily CP fine possible per day per violation has doubled the previous maximum. Is that maximum the largest in the history of the NRC?
    I ask because it seemed that when I was in the business years ago there more CPs issued & for very large amounts. I believe that essentially since the turn of this century the use of the CP has been greatly reduced thru changes in your policy, not necessarily because licensees have performed better. Does increasing the maximum penalty possible mean that the NRC feels that more use of the CP is necessary to help ensure licensee compliance? Increasing the max penalty does nothing & affects no one if the NRC is reluctant to use it.

    • Moderator July 25, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      The new, maximum $280,469 per violation, per day civil penalty is the largest the NRC has ever had.

      The civil penalty amounts were adjusted to maintain their deterrent effect, and not because the NRC feels that more use of CPs is necessary to ensure compliance. The NRC has many vehicles at its disposal to ensure compliance with its regulations including notices of violations, civil penalties and orders to modify, suspend or revoke licenses. The vehicle it uses depends upon the significance of the underlying violation.

      Russell Arrighi

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