U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Taking a Long-Term View on New Reactor Licenses

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Since 2012, the NRC has licensed 11 new reactors in the United States. The first four of those are under construction, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina.

The other seven? Their licenses are ready to go whenever the companies involved choose to start building them, and here’s why.

These new reactors are authorized through the NRC’s Combined License process. Under this approach the license includes permission to both build a reactor and operate it later, as long as a detailed list of completion requirements are met.

A Combined License includes the same 40-year operating period as the licenses for today’s reactors. Those 40 years start when the NRC concludes the reactor has been built according to its license and can operate safely. The construction portion, on the other hand, is set up without a definitive expiration date.

We base our permission to build the reactor on our review of technical and environmental information the applicant provided. Issuing a license means we found all that information acceptable.

Let’s imagine Company X receives a Combined License and waits 10 years before deciding to start construction. If the original information is still valid, the project could get underway. Most categories of information won’t change in that time. The license includes provisions where the company must account for new information when it decides to start construction.

All of this means that companies with a Combined License can therefore take additional time to consider those issues affecting the business decision to construct or not that fall outside the NRC’s jurisdiction. For example, a state’s utility agencies can create or revise policies on how the state obtains and pays for electricity. Changes in interest rates, prices for other electricity sources and even the makeup of regional electricity markets can affect the company’s overall business case.

Once a company concludes conditions are right for using a Combined License, the utility will give the NRC advance notice of its intent to start construction. The NRC will inspect construction activities and otherwise ensure the company meets relevant requirements for protecting the public.

Five Questions With Michael Weber

Michael Weber is the head of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

  1. How would you briefly describe your role at the NRC?

I lead NRC’s scientists, engineers and administrative professionals in confirming safety and security through research on nuclear power plants and uses of nuclear materials, including transportation and disposal. I also help develop our people, computer codes, standards, and experiments to meet our mission well into the future

  1. What is your foremost responsibility at work?

Keeping our people focused on the nuclear safety and security mission of the agency.

  1. What is your most significant challenge in the workplace

Competition for time and attention. There are many issues that compete for our attention from the urgent to the strategic. With our focus on nuclear safety and security, we seek balance in how we use our resources to accomplish our mission in a manner consistent with our vision as a trusted, independent, transparent and effective regulator.

  1. What do you consider one of your most notable accomplishments at the NRC?

Actually protecting the public and ensuring the security of nuclear facilities and material. It is what we do and why we regulate. Because our regulatory program is highly successful in protecting the public, it can be difficult to see the outcomes that we seek to achieve. However, occasionally when we are responding to real safety or security incidents, we glimpse the benefits of nuclear regulation where the actions that we take or the controls we require prevent theft of radioactive material, avoid significant radioactive contamination following a transportation accident, or reduce radiation doses to workers or members of the public.

  1. What is one quality of the NRC that more people should know?

How talented and dedicated NRC people are throughout the agency. I am honored to be part of such a team working daily to protect the nation and to strengthen nuclear and radiological safety and security around the world.

Five Questions is an occasional series in which we pose the same questions to different NRC staff members.

 

 

OIG Audit Looks at Security for Decommissioning Reactors

Brett M. Baker
Assistant Inspector General for Audits

An Office of the Inspector General audit of the NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors is now available here. The audit set out to determine whether NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures, systems and components.

oigThe NRC regulates the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, a process during which a plant is removed from service and the residual radioactivity is reduced to a level that permits release of the property and termination of its license. The NRC has rules governing power plant decommissioning that protect workers and the public during the process, and regulations for the management of worker fatigue.

The OIG found that the agency’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures, systems, and components. However, opportunities exist for program improvement.

The audit found that NRC regulations lack clarity on which elements of fitness-for-duty decommissioning licensees must implement. In addition, the NRC lacks regulatory requirements for a fatigue management program for decommissioning licensees.

The NRC is taking steps to address the issues. Presently, there are ongoing rulemaking efforts in the area of decommissioning. Additionally, the NRC recently finalized a report to document lessons learned associated with permanent power reactor shutdowns that occurred from 2013 – 2016.

The OIG audit report makes recommendations to clarify which fitness-for-duty elements licensees must implement to meet the requirements of the insider mitigation program; and to establish requirements for a fatigue management program.

NRC management stated their general agreement with the audit findings and recommendations.

NRC Inspectors: Free to Inspect

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

We often talk about having NRC Resident Inspectors at each commercial nuclear plant acting as the eyes and ears of the agency on site. It’s important to understand how they go about their business.

Paul Cataldo

Paul Cataldo

On a daily basis, resident inspectors are attending meetings, walking down equipment, monitoring major work activities, reviewing paperwork, and talking to control room operators and plant workers. When an event occurs at a plant, the resident inspectors are in the control room, watching how operators and the plant respond. They provide first-hand knowledge of what’s going on at a plant to regional management on an on-going basis. Inspectors often work business hours, but they’re required to work evenings, weekends and overnight hours, too.

NRC inspectors, including region-based specialists, have “unfettered access,” so they can go anywhere and watch any activity they choose. NRC regulations specify that NRC inspectors must have immediate unfettered access, although inspectors must comply with applicable access control measures for security, radiological protection and personal safety. That means if an inspector wants to enter a radiologically controlled area, he or she is allowed to, but first must follow the radiation protection requirements for the area.

“My job is to ensure the company is in compliance with our regulations and their operating license, which provides reasonable assurance that the plant is safe. One approach I use is the “trust but verify” method,” says Paul Cataldo, the NRC Senior Resident Inspector at Seabook Station in New Hampshire. “In essence, having access to any document, equipment or personnel on-site, without asking permission or the licensee having prior knowledge of a request, gives us confidence regarding the integrity of the information we use during our inspections.”

Plant workers are also prohibited from announcing that an NRC inspector is at the plant or in a particular area. It’s a violation of NRC requirements and over the years we have cited plants when workers tipped off their co-workers that inspectors were on-site.

We rely on our ability to perform announced and unannounced inspections to independently evaluate plant performance. Without unfettered access, our ability to carry out our mission could be impacted.

Principles of Good Regulation: Clarity

Regulations should be coherent, logical, and practical. There should be a clear nexus between regulations and agency goals and objectives whether explicitly or implicitly stated. Agency positions should be readily understood and easily applied.

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer

graphic-pogr_clarityThe NRC has a double challenge when it comes to clarity. We are a regulatory agency that derives its authority from a series of laws passed by Congress and we regulate a highly technical industry with many of our experts holding advanced technical degrees.

For those reasons, it can sometimes be challenging to explain what we do and why we do it.

Over the years, the agency has employed a variety of different ways to communicate with clarity. This blog and all our social media platforms are one avenue. Producing less technical executive summaries for otherwise quite complex documents is another way.

We often work with technical experts to help prepare them for public meetings and to ensure their presentations are “user friendly” for the audience expected to attend. The agency’s training center offers many courses to help technical experts present their complex work clearly in a way that is more accessible for both technical and non-technical audiences.

The agency’s website also provides a wealth of information to meet the needs of both technical audiences and the general public. Even our student corner section helps clarify the agency’s mission and activities.

The NRC’s work may involve an abundance of acronyms and technical jargon, but we are always striving to convey what we do and why we do it in the clearest way possible.

This post is the fourth of five that will explore each of the five principles separately. For the history of the Principles of Good Regulation, read this post.

 

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