U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Category Archives: General

Yucca Mountain Documents Now Publicly Available – In a New Online Library

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

The NRC is flipping the switch today on its new LSN Library — making nearly 3.7 million documents related to the adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Yucca Mountain repository available to the public.

yuccatunnelThe library makes the discovery documents by various parties to the hearing public for the first time in five years, and with enhanced search capabilities. The new LSN Library is part of the NRC’s online documents database, known as ADAMS. Although the NRC staff’s discovery documents were already publicly available in ADAMS, those materials have been incorporated into the LSN Library to permit “one-stop” searching for Yucca-related technical information.

Here’s the genesis of the new library: The NRC created the Licensing Support Network, or LSN, back in 2001, years before the Department of Energy submitted its application in 2008 for construction authorization for a high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain. The network was designed to allow easy access to the volumes of discovery documents that would support various aspects of the hearing.

The LSN was a database that required participants to house their documents on their own servers that were accessible for “crawling” by LSN software maintained by the NRC. This software created a document index. Participants and the public could search the index and generate a link to relevant documents on the participants’ home servers.

The LSN worked smoothly through the early stages of the hearing. But then the Department of Energy shut down the Yucca Mountain Project in 2010, and the NRC staff proceeded with an “orderly closure” of its review of DOE’s license application. As part of the orderly closure, an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel’s Construction Authorization Board suspended the hearing in September 2011. The LSN was closed down the previous month, with the CAB directing the parties (other than the NRC staff, whose documents were already public in ADAMS) to provide all their LSN documents to the NRC’s Office of the Secretary.

Then in August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC to resume its review of DOE’s Yucca Mountain application, using previously appropriated money from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

The Commission directed the staff to finish and publish its Safety Evaluation Report, the main technical review of the application. The staff published the final volumes in January 2015. Then the Commission directed the staff to prepare a supplement to DOE’s Environmental Impact Statement, covering certain groundwater issues that were not fully analyzed in the EIS. The staff issued the final supplement this past May.

Additionally, the Commission directed that if there was enough money remaining, the LSN documents should be made publicly available. As explained in a paper published August 12, that’s the work being completed now with activation of the LSN Library.

The library is significant for three reasons. First, it meets federal records requirements. Second, the library again provides public access to the previously-disclosed discovery materials should the Yucca Mountain adjudicatory hearing resume. Third, should the Yucca Mountain hearing not resume, the library will provide an important source of technical information for any future high-level waste repository licensing proceeding.

And of course, the library helps us meet the NRC’s goal of being an open and transparent regulator.

Five Questions With: Andrew Averbach

Andrew Averbach is the NRC’s Solicitor

  1. How would you describe your job in three sentences or less?5 questions_9with box

Under the supervision of the General Counsel, I’m responsible for the NRC’s federal court litigation – representing the NRC in the courts of appeals when the agency is sued about a rule or an adjudicatory order. When a case is filed against us, I’ll typically work with the attorney within OGC’s Legal Counsel division assigned to the case, as well as with the Department of Justice, to write the agency’s brief. Either the OGC attorney or I will argue the case in court. I also provide my views within OGC and to the Commission and the Office of Commission Appellate Adjudication as to how proposed courses of action are likely to be viewed if they are challenged in court.

  1. What is the single most important thing that you do at work?

The single most important thing I do is working with OGC attorneys to articulate and defend the position of the Commission to federal courts. This typically involves defending the agency’s actions against complaints – some exaggerated, some that have at least an arguable legal or factual basis — that the agency has acted illegally or unreasonably.

  1. What is the single biggest challenge you face?andrew

The biggest challenge I face is explaining things in a way that provides reassurance to the courts the agency has thoroughly addressed whatever problem is being raised. The NRC has historically been regarded by the courts as an independent and highly competent agency, and the criticisms that underlie many of the cases brought against us often unfairly suggest otherwise. It requires a good deal of patience to absorb criticism of this type and to explain the agency’s view, without slipping into jargon. Very often this involves trying to explain why the complaints raised against the agency have been oversimplified or are misleading.

  1. If you could change one thing at the NRC or within the nuclear industry, what would it be?

Having a national strategy for the management of spent fuel nuclear fuel would certainly make defending the cases against us easier, as the uncertainty about what will happen to reactor sites over the long term undermines people’s willingness to accept the agency’s assurances of safety, no matter how justified they may be. Specific to the NRC, I would also like to impose a requirement that the salad bar in our cafeteria always have curried cauliflower; I am very disappointed on those days when it is removed.

  1. What one thing about the NRC do you wish more people knew?

I wish more people understood the depth of people’s commitment here to do the right thing. One of the things that’s disheartening in many of the legal briefs filed against us is the pervasive allegation that the agency has acted with an improper motive. On some level, that’s just the hyperbole that some people think is effective in court. However, on another level there’s an element of distrust out there that just doesn’t square up with the way that the agency goes about its work.

Five Questions is a new, occasional blog series in which we pose the same questions to NRC staff members from across the agency.

Ten Things You May Not Know — About Nuclear Power and the NRC

Stephanie West
Public Affairs Specialist

It’s summer and you might be reading this blog while relaxing in the sun or otherwise taking it easy. So, just for fun, we’ve listed 10 nuclear-related facts you might find interesting, albeit light, reading:

1. Nothing lasts forever. Every year or two, reactor operators spend about a month, removing and replacing about one-third of a reactor’s fuel and performing various maintenance activities during plant outages to make sure reactors perform efficiently. Source: NRC Information Digest

youtube22. No bowling leagues. In order to preserve their objectivity, NRC resident inspectors are discouraged from attending social events where nuclear plant employees are involved. They also may not serve at any nuclear plant longer than seven years.

3. Who at the NRC must train to escape a sinking helicopter? Health physicists in NRC’s Region IV office of course. A handful of them must fly to inspect offshore oil rigs in federal waters. They must be prepared not only to escape a helicopter, but to survive a fire on an oil platform by jumping into the sea and fighting off sharks by kicking them in the snout.

4. Quick question: Where is the largest research reactor in the U.S.? Check below for the answer. But you should know that Research and Test Reactors operating at levels of 2 megawatts thermal (MWt) or greater receive a full NRC inspection every year. The largest U.S. research reactor, which produces 20 MWt, is 75 times smaller than the smallest U.S. commercial power reactor.

5. Once the explosive ingredient in Soviet nuclear warheads, highly enriched uranium was diluted to become the stuff that powered our homes and businesses in the U.S. The Megatons to Megawatts program was born from a 1993 agreement between the U.S. and Russia to reduce the stockpile of Soviet-era highly enriched uranium.

6. Everyone loves this story. MB900371234The most all-time viewed post on this NRC blog is “Putting the Axe to the Scram Myth” with more than 18,000 views since it was originally posted in 2011.

7. It’s just not easy being a spent nuclear fuel transportation cask. Each must be designed to survive a 30-foot drop onto an unyielding surface, a puncture test, a fully engulfing fire at 1,425 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes and immersion under water.

8. The Watts Bar nuclear plant makes its mark both on this century and the last. Unit 1 was the last U.S. reactor to come online in the 20th century and Unit 2 is expected to be the first to come online in the 21st. Read more about the history of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in our blog post: Watts Bar – Making History In Yet Another Century.

9. Months of planning, thorough inspections, dozens of law enforcement officials, a specially equipped truck – and a S.W.A.T. team. It sounds like a checklist for an action movie. Instead it was used to move a mini refrigerator-sized irradiator in Anchorage about 2.5 miles. These small irradiators are used to sterilize medical equipment and products, and contain a sealed source of radioactive material. They are protected to keep the public and environment safe from exposure, but also to keep it out of the hands of terrorists.

reportcard10. It’s no “easy A.” In addition to years of related experience, NRC-licensed nuclear plant operators must receive extensive classroom, simulator and on-the-job training. But they also must be certified as physically and mentally fit to be an operator. Source: NRC Information Digest

Answer: National Institute of Standards & Technology, Gaithersburg, Md.

 

When Plans Change — Discontinuing Some Rulemaking

Leslie Terry
Team Leader
Office of Administration

NRC does its job with regulations contained in the Chapter I of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations cover everything from commercial 10cfrreactors to nuclear materials used in a variety of settings, to storing and disposing of nuclear waste.

A year ago we explained how we keep our rules up to date and unveiled a web page to provide periodic updates on our rulemaking activities. To recap, we identify the rules already under development and any new rules that need to be written. We then rank by priority every rule, regardless of the regulatory area. This way we ensure we’re focusing our resources on the high priority rules that most contribute to the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. We also monitor the progress of our rulemaking activities and develop budget estimates for preparing new rules.

Sometimes our rulemaking plans change. Our Commissioners voted recently to approve a staff recommendation to discontinue eight rulemaking activities that were in the early stages of development.

During our most recent review, the staff identified several rulemakings that were in the early stages of development, but staff believes are no longer needed to meet the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. The staff wrote a paper requesting Commission approval to discontinue nine activities, and discussed a 10th rulemaking the Commission had already decided to discontinue. The Commission agreed to discontinue seven of the nine rulemakings the staff proposed.

The discontinued rulemakings covered a variety of topics, and the basis to discontinue is different for each rulemaking. For example, we have a rulemaking underway to better define the requirements for reactors that have permanently shut down and are decommissioning. We felt that rulemaking was an appropriate place to address decommissioning options, including entombment for power reactors, so we are discontinuing a separate rulemaking on entombment.

We also feel the current case-by-case framework is sufficient for reviewing the limited number of requests we’ve received for alternate disposal pathways for waste with very low activity. So we’re discontinuing a rulemaking to set generic requirements, which had already been on hold for a number of years. Instead, we’ll take another look at the issue as part of an assessment of low level radioactive waste disposal, and if we decide that a rulemaking is necessary, we’ll ask the Commission to revisit the issue.

We encourage you to read more about the Commission’s vote and the staff’s proposal on our web site. You can also check our prioritization web page for future updates on our rulemaking activities.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,976 other followers

%d bloggers like this: